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The expression “nice guys finish last” is based on remarks made on July 6, 1946, by Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher in reference to New York Giants manager Mel Ott. It’s a paraphrase. What Durocher actually said, reportedly, was:

“Nice guys! Look over there. Do you know a nicer guy than Mel Ott? Or any of the other Giants? Why, they’re the nicest guys in the world! And where are they? In seventh place! Nice guys! I’m not a nice guy – and I’m in first place.” After pacing up and down the visitors’ dugout, the Dodger manager waved a hand toward the Giants’ dugout and repeated, “The nice cguys are all over there, in seventh place.”

Last place, at the time, was eighth place, but the relevant point is that it didn’t start at Martinsville Speedway, where Denny Hamlin’s Toyota shoved Chase Elliott’s Chevrolet out of the lead and into the wall on the 498th lap of the First Data 500. Elliott, who seems to be a nice guy, finished 27th. Hamlin finished seventh.

Kyle Busch won, naturally. Martin Truex Jr. finished second, naturally.

It seems to me that analysis of this cataclysmic occurrence spans two basic schools of thought, not to mention etiquette, which is a strange word to be used in relation to stock car racing anywhere and especially at Martinsville, the last of the old-time trading posts, where Injuns bring their beaver pelts to town and trade them for lightning water and repeating rifles.

Do I think Hamlin crossed “the line”? Oh, yes. It’s a rubbin’ vs. wreckin’ argument. Nudging another driver up a lane, with a little tap at the right moment, is an act of great skill. At the risk of sounding like Robert Duvall as Harry Hogge (in Days of Thunder), and rearranging his words as much as Durocher’s, Hamlin didn’t rub Elliott. He wrecked him. Hamlin couldn’t have pushed Elliott any more if Elliott’s car had been a bobsled at Lake Placid, and then it would have been helpful.

Descriptions of Hamlin’s boorish behavior encompass a panorama of clichés, some of them associated with professional wrestling, also known as “rasslin’.” No holds barred. Anything goes. Second place is the first loser. Just win, baby. Winning is the only thing that matters. Show me the money.

The alternative view isn’t that Hamlin was right in any ethical sense. He wasn’t.

But this is the Machiavellian Cup nowadays. It’s a Monster with lots of Energy and money.

After two more uncouth crowd pleasers, four drivers are going to compete in the season’s final race, the Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and the one who either wins outright or finishes best of the four is going to be the genuine Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion and, by necessity, a thoroughly dangerous man.

Sportsmanship is about as fashionable as Nehru jackets. NASCAR’s playoff format is just a sign of the times. The times of Hunger Games movies. It’s gotten dirty, cold, ruthless and unmerciful.

It’s the plan, carefully plotted by the Lords of Daytona. The segments of the playoffs should be called “The Sixteen Survivors,” followed by the “The Dirty Dozen,” “The Reprobate Eight” and “The State of War Four.”

Next up are races in Fort Worth, Texas, and Avondale, Arizona, where, presumably, the Code of the West is in place, and that involves “frontier justice” at the expense of law and order. Whatever varmints get, they deserve.

Personally, I hope the Lone Ranger and Tonto arrive on the scene to settle things down. Hiyo, Silver!