by Bob Priddy, Contributing Editor
(NASCAR)—On the day NASCAR decreed the most prominent symbol of its southern roots would no longer be allowed at any of its tracks, a New Jersey driver won the first night race at the Virginia track that is series’ oldest and shortest track. The only African-American driver in NASCAR’s top series came within 0.15 of a second of a top-ten finish in a car carrying one of the sport’s most famous numbers and the message “Black Lives Matter.”
The race was the first night race at Martinsville, the only track that has been on the NASCAR circuit since its beginning in 1948.
A few hours before the green flag dropped at Martinsville Speedway, a .526-mile speedway that is likened to a paperclip in design, NASCAR released a statement:
The presence of the confederate flag at NASCAR events runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry. Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special. The display of the confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties.
It wasn’t a problem at Martinsville because no fans were in the stands because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
New Jersey native Martin Truex Jr., seized the lead on lap 370 of the 500-lap race and won by almost five seconds. Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, and Joey Logano—the three Penske team drivers, chased Truex to the end. The win is Truex’s first of the year but his second straight at Martisville, a track where he led 464 of the 500 laps last fall.
Darrell “Bubba” Wallace, who had suggested Monday night that NASCAR should ban the Confederate flag as a way to demonstrate a commitment to fighting racism, raced to eleventh place in a Richard Petty Motorsports car bearing Petty’s famous number, 43. He called NASCAR’s anti-flag statement “a huge, pivotal moment for the sport.”
Wallace appeared to suffer no ill-effects from the grueling race after last weekend’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway when he fainted after getting out of his hot car.
Part-time Missourian Clint Bowyer ran strongly in the first segment of the race and finished second to Logano. But his car began to fade in the second segment and he fell a lap behind. He finished 17th.
NASCAR runs next at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, its third race in eight days as it catches up to its schedule after several weeks without races because of the pandemic.