“Sports do not build character.They reveal it.” Sportswriter Haywood Hale Broun may have been on to something, though he had passed from the scene long before Sunday’s NASCAR race at Martinsville. Much of the focus will no doubt be on some of the bad behavior during race, but what of the drivers who did it right? Their respect for others and self-restraint will be celebrated here.

Jimmie Johnson admits there was a temptation to bang doors withTony Stewart on the final re-start that launched Smoke to victory. the 5-time champion whose reign appears to have ended says that succumbing to the urge would not only would made a race winner out of Jeff Gordon, it wouldn’t have been right. Stewart had raced Johnson clean all day, and the better angels of his nature prevailed.

Stewart knows Johnson could have rubbed him. The last champion not named Jimmie says there’s a mutual respect that falls under the principle of racing others how they race you. The scenario may have played out differently were it Kurt Busch or Juan Pablo Montoya, but the two raced hard and raced clean to provide the fans a dramatic finish.

Carl Edwards even found himself needing a little consideration from another. Edwards said of a late re-start, “My spotter Jason, NASCAR was telling him for me to pass the 31. Jason was yelling at me, We’ve got to pass the 31. I drove around the outside of Burton right as the green was coming out. I have to give credit to Burton. He probably had no clue what was going on. He thought about turning me around in turn one. I’m grateful he didn’t do that.” Edwards was also thankful NASCAR re-examined the circumstances and rescinded the black flag they had waved on him.

This isn’t to say there wasn’t contact or hard racing going on. Stewart and Kevin Harvick traded a little paint, and as far as that goes, who wasn’t getting touched? Context is everything, and short-track racing is full contact racing. The difference is one of whether or not you are actually trying wreck somebody. There were plenty of others on hand at Martinsville to demonstrate the difference. Don’t read this as this writer passing judgment on Matt Kenseth busting on Vickers. I’m certain I would have done the same.

On thing that was different for those drivers trying to advance their position in the standings is that the ones who applied the golden rule on the track made gains, regardless of whether or not they won. Johnson may be all but out of the title hunt, but he still sliced a load of points off his deficit, and would have gained little from wrecking Stewart.

Speaking of Smoke, he was the big winner on the day, closing to within eight points of the Chase leader Edwards. It sets up what will be a very intriguing battle in terms of the four remaining in serious Chase contention. Edwards, Stewart, Harvick and Brad Keselowski are all hard chargers, and it’s safe to say this quartet will see plenty of each other in the three races that remain.

It could get dramatic, it could even get down and dirty; but on Sunday, it was the drivers who kept their composure who ruled the day. On this day, sportsmanship prevailed.

Other articles by this author include:

Blaney’s Top Five A Win For The NASCAR Joe’s
A Jolt Of Racing Reality
Mythbusting The Johnson Conspiracy