Elliott clinches championship spot with a win at Martinsville

With a championship spot on the line and his back against the wall in the final laps and in a “must-win” scenario, Chase Elliott rose to the occasion and walked it off in style after dominating and pulling away late to win the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway and race his way into the Championship 4 round at Phoenix Raceway, where he will contend for his first NASCAR Cup Series championship. The victory was Elliott’s first at Martinsville, fourth of the season and the 10th of his career in his 184th start in NASCAR’s premier series.

The starting lineup was based on four stats: current owner’s standings, driver’s and owner’s results from a previous Cup race and the fastest lap recorded from a previous Cup race. With that, Brad Keselowski started on pole position and was joined on the front row with Martin Truex Jr. Garrett Smithley was the lone competitor who started at the rear of the field due to a driver change.

Prior to the race, Playoff contender Denny Hamlin faced early adversity when a travel packer was left in the shock of his No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry during pre-race inspection. Hamlin’s team, however, opted to not remove it to not fall to the rear of the field as he will start in fourth place.


American Muscle

When the green flag waved and the race started, Brad Keselowski jumped ahead with the lead as he led the first lap ahead of Martin Truex Jr. Behind, Alex Bowman settled in third place in front of Denny Hamlin while Kurt Busch and Joey Logano overtook Kevin Harvick for fifth and sixth. Not long after, Chase Elliott joined the party along with Kyle Busch.

On the fourth lap, Truex emerged with the lead and Hamlin made contact with Keselowski’s No. 2 Dent Wizard Ford Mustang entering Turn 4 to move into second place. Kurt Busch, facing a “must-win” situation, also made a move for third beneath Keselowski, who was able to settle in front of Bowman.

By Lap 10, Truex, racing in his No. 19 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota Camry, continued to lead the race over teammate Hamlin with Kurt Busch, Keselowski and Bowman in the top five. By then, Elliott, Logano, Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney and Harvick were in the top 10. Way behind the leaders, Michael McDowell was back in 28th place and he continued to fall below the leaderboard while dealing with a major left-rear tire rub on his No. 34 Ford Mustang.

A few laps later, the left-rear tire on McDowell’s car flattened, but he was able to nurse his car back to pit road as the race proceeded under green. The situation went from bad to worse for McDowell, who was hit with a commitment line violation and was hit with a speeding penalty while serving a pass-through penalty, thus pinning him multiple laps behind the leaders.

By Lap 20, Truex stabilized his advantage to more than a second over teammate Hamlin, who had Kurt Busch and Keselowski closing in on him for the runner-up spot. Elliott was in fifth followed by teammate Bowman, Logano, Blaney, Kyle Busch and Harvick. By then, Clint Bowyer was in 12th ahead of Matt DiBenedetto and William Byron while Aric Almirola, Erik Jones, Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were in the top 20. Tyler Reddick was in 21st ahead of Ryan Preece, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson were in 25th and 26th, Bubba Wallace and Daniel Suarez were in 28th and 29th and Chris Buescher was in 30th.

By Lap 30, Truex continued to lead by more than a second over teammate Hamlin while Kurt Busch, racing in his No. 1 Monster Energy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, continued to pressure Hamlin for the runner-up spot. Elliott muscled his way into fourth place over Keselowski while Bowman, Logano, Blaney, Harvick and Kyle Busch continued to run in the top 10. 

When 40 of 500 laps were complete, Truex stabilized his advantage to nearly two seconds over teammate Hamlin, who had Kurt Busch and Elliott closing in for the runner-up spot. Keselowski continued to run in fifth place followed by teammates Blaney and Logano. Bowman fell back to eighth in front of Harvick and Kyle Busch. 

With 50 laps complete, Truex continued to lead while Elliott, who bumped Hamlin a lap earlier, made a move beneath Hamlin to move his No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE into second place. Kurt Busch dropped back to fourth place as Keselowski closed in for more. Logano was in seventh behind teammate Blaney while Bowman and Harvick were in ninth and 10th behind Kyle Busch’s No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry.

With the leaders mired in lapped traffic, Elliott was able to narrow the deficit between himself and Truex to as close to two-tenths of a seconds. It was not enough, however, to overtake Truex, who retained the lead when the competition caution flew on Lap 60. By then, the remaining eight Playoff contenders remained in the top 10 on the track, with Harvick and Bowman mired back in ninth and 10th. 

Under the competition caution, the leaders pitted and Truex retained the lead following a stellar four-tire pit stop and exiting pit road in first place ahead of Elliott, Logano, Keselowski, Bowman, Hamlin and Harvick. Kurt Busch, who entered pit road in the top five, fell all the way back to 12th place for the restart.

The race resumed under green on Lap 68 with Truex and Elliott on the front row followed by Logano, Keselowski, Bowman and Hamlin. At the start, Truex cleared the field and retained the lead while Elliott and Logano battled for second. Behind, Clint Bowyer suffered a left-rear tire rub, but he continued to run inside the top 15. 

By Lap 70, Truex was at the front while Elliott, who lost second place to Logano, reassumed the spot following contact with Logano’s No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang while Keselowski and Hamlin were in the top five ahead of Bowman and Blaney. 

Three laps later, the caution returned when contact from teammate Aric Almirola entering Turn 1 sent Bowyer spinning sideways and Austin Dillon had to slam on the brakes to avoid making contact into Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford Mustang.

The race restarted under green six laps later with Truex and Elliott on the front row. At the start, Truex retained the lead over Elliott while Hamlin retained third place on the outside lane over Logano. Keselowski was in fifth in front of Bowman and Blaney while Kurt Busch was in eighth ahead of Kyle Busch and Harvick. 

By Lap 85, the front-runners settled into a single-file line of racing with Truex leading by a narrow margin over Elliott while Hamlin and Logano battled for third place. Keselowski continued to race in fifth while teammate Blaney overtook Bowman for sixth. Kurt Busch and Harvick continued to run in eighth and 10th with Kyle Busch mired in ninth.

On Lap 88, the No. 9 Chevrolet of Elliott blasted by Truex’s No. 19 Toyota for the lead in Turn 4 while Hamlin and Logano continued to battle for third place with teammates Keselowski and Blaney in fifth and sixth.

When the race reached its 100-lap mark, Elliott was leading by nearly three-tenths of a second over Truex with Hamlin in third. Behind, Team Penske’s Logano, Blaney and Keselowski battled for fourth place while Bowman and Kurt Busch continued to run in seventh and eighth. Harvick, meanwhile, was mired back in 11th in between William Byron and Almirola. Cole Custer was in 13th followed by Ryan Newman and Matt DiBenedetto. 

The caution returned on Lap 104 when the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE driven by Garrett Smithley stopped on the track in Turn 4. Under caution, most of the leaders led by Hamlin and Logano pitted while Elliott and Truex were among six competitors who remained on the track. Following the pit stops, however, Blaney was penalized for speeding on pit road. In addition, Bubba Wallace was penalized and sent to the rear of the field for removing equipment from his pit box.

When the race restarted under green on Lap 109, Elliott retained the lead over Truex. In Turn 2, Bowyer ran into the rear bumper of teammate Almirola and moved him out of the racing groove as a possible payback from their earlier on-track altercation and incident. Following the contact with his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Almirola made contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. entering Turn 4 while trying to fall back in line amid a tight pack of racing. 

Back towards the front, Hamlin moved into third place over Bowyer while Bowman was in fifth. By then, Keselowski and Logano were in the top 10 while Kurt Busch and Harvick were running outside of the top 10 on the track. 

On Lap 113, Hamlin, racing on four fresh tires compared to Elliott and Truex, emerged with the lead after passing Elliott. Not long after, the caution returned when Joey Gase spun in Turn 4 following contact with Quin Houff.

With 10 laps remaining in the first stage, the race resumed under green with Hamlin and Elliott on the front row. At the start, Hamlin retained the lead and Elliott retained the runner-up spot. Behind, Bowman, racing on fresh tires, muscled his way into third place over Truex with Keselowski in fifth. 

With the laps in the first stage coming to a close, Bowman overtook teammate Elliott for second place while Keselowski made his way into fourth place over Truex with Logano joining the party. By then, Hamlin was gone as he led by more than a second over Bowman’s No. 88 Planters Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE.

With the on-track battles ensuing behind, Hamlin was able to cruise away from the field and claim the first stage on Lap 130 for his 11th stage victory of the season. Bowman crossed the line in second place followed by Keselowski while Elliott held off Logano for fourth. Truex fell back to sixth followed by Kyle Busch, Byron, Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson. Harvick settled in 14th in between Bowyer and Matt Kenseth.

Under the stage break, most of the leaders pitted and following the pit stops, Elliott exited in first place followed by Hamlin and Truex. Back on the track, Kyle Busch emerged with the lead after remaining on the track followed by brother Kurt Busch, Cole Custer, Ty Dillon, Almirola and Bubba Wallace. Following the pit stops, Kenseth was penalized for improper fueling.

The second stage started on Lap 139 with the Busch brothers on the front row. At the start, brothers Kyle and Kurt battled dead even for the lead. Following an intense battle for the next several laps, Kurt cleared his brother Kyle for the lead with Custer in third. Behind, Elliott and Hamlin, both on fresh tires, carved their way int the top five. 

On Lap 145, just as Elliott and Hamlin were up in third and fourth behind Kyle Busch, the caution returned when Buescher’s No. 17 Fifth Third Bank Ford Mustang spewed fluid and smoke on the track following an earlier contact with Suarez, an issues that ended Buescher’s race up in smoke and in the garage. Buescher’s engine issues occurred in front of Harvick, who was mired back in 25th and currently scored outside of the top-four cutline for the Championship 4 finale.

When the race restarted under green on Lap 158, Kurt Busch retained the lead ahead of Elliott while Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch and Hamlin were in third and fourth. Behind, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Custer and Almirola battled for fifth place in front of Truex. Logano was 10th behind Ty Dillon and Wallace while Bowman was in 12th. Keselowski was in 15th while Harvick was back in 26th.

On Lap 162, Elliott reassumed the lead following a pass on Kurt Busch in Turn 4. Shortly after, Hamlin made his way into second place while Kurt Busch remained in third place in front of brother Kyle. By then, Keselowski was mired back in 17th while Harvick could only work his way up to 24th place behind DiBenedetto.

By Lap 170, Elliott extended his advantage to more than a second over Hamlin while Kurt Busch continued to run in third place ahead of teammates Kyle Busch and Truex. Behind, Logano moved into sixth place over Almirola while Custer, Johnson and Byron were in the top 10 ahead of Bowman. 

On Lap 180, Harvick made an unscheduled pit stop to address a flat left-rear tire on his No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang as a result of an earlier contact with Kenseth. The misfortune cost Harvick two laps from the leaders.

Back at the front, Elliott stabilized his advantage to nearly two seconds over Hamlin with Truex, Kurt Busch and Logano in the top five. 

On Lap 185, the caution returned for Brennan Poole, who made contact into the outside wall due to a flat left-front tire. Under caution, the leaders pitted and Elliott exited the pits with the lead over Hamlin, Truex, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch. Following the pit stop, Erik Jones made another pit stop due to removing equipment from his pit box.

When the race restarted on Lap 192, Elliott retained the lead over Truex with Hamlin settling behind his teammate for the spot. Kurt Busch retained fourth while Kyle Busch and Bowman battled for fifth. Logano moved up to seventh while Blaney, Byron and Custer were in the top 10.

With the race reaching its 200-lap mark, Elliott stretched his advantage to nearly a second over Hamlin with teammate Truex in third. The Busch brothers were in the top five followed by Logano, Bowman, Blaney, Custer and Bowyer were in the top 10. Keselowski was in 11th ahead of Byron while Harvick was in 31st, the first car a lap down to the leaders. 

By Lap 210, Elliott continued to lead by nearly two seconds over Truex with teammate Hamlin trailing by more than two seconds. Kurt Busch and Logano were in the top five while Keselowski and Bowman were in eighth and ninth. Harvick was still mired back in 31st place. 

Six laps later, the caution returned when Ryan Preece spun in Turn 3 following contact from John Hunter Nemechek. At the time of caution, Elliott lapped Timmy Hill and Hill received the free pass to return to the lead lap, leaving Harvick still trapped a lap behind the leaders. Under caution, some of the leaders led by Elliott and Truex pitted while the rest led by Hamlin remained on the track.  

The race restarted on Lap 221 with Hamlin and Logano on the front row. At the start, Hamlin retained the lead while Blaney challenged and overtook teammate Logano for second place. Teammate Keselowski was in fourth followed by Bowman while Byron was in sixth. Behind, Elliott, racing on fresh tires, muscled his way into 10th place while Truex was stuck in 13th. 

While Elliott continued to carve his way back to the front, Hamlin continued to lead Penske’s three-car lineup of Blaney, Keselowski and Logano with Bowman in fifth. Shortly after, Elliott overtook teammates Byron and Bowman to move back into the top five. Truex was in eighth place while Kurt Busch was in 14th behind Erik Jones.

Just as the field passed the Lap 230 mark, Elliott worked his way back to third place while Hamlin continued to lead by nearly half a second over Blaney. Keselowski and Logano dropped back to fourth and fifth while Truex overtook Bowman for sixth place. By then, Kurt Busch returned to the top 10. Harvick was still back in 31st place.

On Lap 239, Elliott carved his way back into the lead after passing Hamlin. Blaney settled in third behind Hamlin while Truex worked his way back to fourth place. Keselowski fell back to fifth ahead of Kyle Busch, Logano, Bowman, Kurt Busch and Byron. 

By Lap 245, leader Elliott started to catch lapped traffic. He went on to lap J.J. Yeley and Timmy Hill, which placed Harvick in another deficit as he was no longer scored the first car a lap behind and currently scored outside of the cutline to the championship finale round. Behind Elliott, Hamlin continued to run in second place while Truex moved into third place. Blaney fell back to fourth while Kyle Busch was in fifth place ahead of brother Kurt.

With less than 10 laps remaining in the second stage and with the overall race surpassing its halfway mark, Truex passed teammate Hamlin for the runner-up spot while Elliott was ahead by more than three seconds. He soon started to catch teammate Jimmie Johnson to place him a lap behind while Blaney mounted a challenge on Hamlin for third place. 

With no challengers closing in behind his No. 9 Chevrolet, Elliott coasted across the start/finish line to win the second stage on Lap 260 and for his 10th stage victory of the season. Truex settled in second while Hamlin held off Blaney and Kurt Busch, all of whom settled in the top five. Kyle Busch, Keselowski, Logano, Bowman and Newman settled in the top 10. Harvick was mired back in 31st place and scored the third car a lap down to the leaders.

Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Elliott retained the lead following a stellar pit stop and exiting the pits ahead of Truex, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and Logano. During the pit stops, Hamlin suffered a slow pit stop due to issues getting the left-front tire on his No. 11 Toyota as he exited in eighth place. Afterwards, Hamlin made another pit stop to have the lug nuts on his car tightened as he dropped all the way towards the tail end of the field.

With 233 laps remaining, the final stage commenced with Elliott and Truex on the front row. At the start, Elliott retained the lead over Truex while Kurt Busch retained third place. Logano moved into fourth place over teammate Blaney and Kyle Busch while Bowman and Keselowski were in seventh and eighth.

With 220 laps remaining, Elliott stretched his advantage to nearly a second over Truex with Kurt Busch, Logano and Blaney in the top five. Kyle Busch was in sixth followed by Bowman, Keselowski, Bowyer and Almirola. Hamlin was mired back in 24th while Harvick was trapped in 30th, a lap behind the leaders and still scored outside of the championship finale cutline, with Elliott currently in by leading the race.

Ten laps later, with 210 laps remaining, Elliott stabilized his advantage to nearly a second over Truex with Logano, Blaney and Kurt Busch still in the top five. Kyle Busch retained sixth place while Keselowski closed in on Bowman for seventh. Bowyer and Byron rounded out the top 10 ahead of Almirola, Newman, Jones, Custer and Corey LaJoie. By then, Hamlin was in 21st behind Stenhouse.

Down to the final 200 laps of the race, Elliott continued to lead by less than a second over Truex with Blaney trailing by less than three seconds. Logano and Kurt Busch were in the top five followed by Kyle Busch, Keselowski, Bowman, Bowyer and Almirola. By then, 28 of 39 competitors on the track were on the lead lap, with John Hunter Nemechek scored the first car a lap behind in 29th and Harvick mired back in 30th place. Hamlin, meanwhile, was in 18th behind Christopher Bell, but he remained above the top-four cutline to the championship finale round.

Twenty laps later, with 180 laps remaining, Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet was still out in front of the pack as he approached lapped traffic. Truex, who nearly closed in on Elliott for the lead, dropped to nearly a second of a deficit behind Elliott. Blaney was back in third place followed by Logano and Kurt Busch while Keselowski overtook Kyle Busch for sixth. Bowman, Almirola and Bowyer continued to run in the top 10 while Hamlin was in 17th behind Ty Dillon. Harvick, meanwhile, was back in 28th.

As the laps progressed, Harvick was far from being the first car a lap down as Daniel Suarez, Nemechek, Ryan Preece, Bubba Wallace, Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon were all lapped by Elliott. 

Another 20 laps later, with 160 laps remaining, Elliott’s advantage grew to more than a second over Truex while Logano overtook teammate Blaney for third place. Kurt Busch and Keselowski were in fifth and sixth while Bowman was in eighth. Hamlin was in 16th behind Corey LaJoie while Harvick was still in 28th, a lap behind. By then, 20 cars were scored on the lead lap with 21st-place competitor Kenseth being lapped. 

Down to the final 150 laps of the race, the No. 9 Chevrolet of Elliott was leading by nearly two seconds over Truex with Logano behind by more than two seconds. Moments after, the caution flew due to Timmy Hill cutting a right-rear tire in Turn 2. Prior to the caution, Jimmie Johnson made a pit stop due to a flat tire.

Under caution, the leaders pitted and Logano edged Truex to assume the lead upon exiting pit road followed by Blaney, Elliott and Kurt Busch. Following the pit stops, however, the situation went from bad to worse for Elliott, who was tagged with an over the wall penalty thanks to his Jackman upon his pit stop. For the moment, Elliott remained on the track as his team went to work in appealing the penalty. Moments before the restart, NASCAR rescinded the penalty due to his Jackman running back to the pit stall upon jumping over it too soon.

The race restarted under green with 142 laps remaining with teammates Logano and Blaney on the front row. At the start, Logano retained the lead over teammate Blaney with Kurt Busch in third ahead of Elliott and Keselowski. By then, with Logano leading, Harvick moved back into the top-four cutline by a narrow margin over Elliott. 

With 132 laps remaining, Blaney passed teammate Logano for the lead. By then, Elliott moved into third place ahead of Keselowski and Kurt Busch, Truex was in sixth ahead of Bowman, Hamlin was in 12th and Harvick was in 23rd, the second car a lap behind with Bubba Wallace in front of him. 

Twelve laps later, with 120 laps remaining, Blaney continued to lead by nearly a second over teammate Logano as Elliott continued to close in on Logano for the runner-up spot. Truex was in fifth behind Keselowski, Kurt Busch was in sixth ahead of Bowman, Hamlin was back in 14th and Harvick was in 22nd, the first car scored a lap behind.

With 110 laps remaining, Blaney stabilized his advantage to more than a second over teammate Logano with Elliott trailing by more than two seconds as he started to have Keselowski close in for position. Truex was back in fifth place and in front of Kurt Busch and Bowman while Byron, Bowyer and Almirola were in the top 10. Hamlin retained 14th while Harvick settled in 22nd, a lap behind. 

With 100 laps remaining, the caution returned when James Davison stopped on the track in Turn 2. The caution served as a well-timing welcome for Harvick, who was able to return to the lead lap after being scored the first competitor a lap behind in 22nd. 

Under caution, the leaders pitted and Logano reassumed the lead following another strong pit stop, with teammates Blaney and Keselowski, Truex and Bowman exiting in the top five. Elliott, who entered in third place, fell back to eighth place following a slow pit stop. Following the pit stops, disaster struck for Keselowski, who was busted with a speeding penalty and sent to the rear of the field. After returning to the lead lap, Harvick was scored back inside the top-four cutline by a decent margin. 

With 92 laps remaining, the race restarted under green with Logano and Truex on the front row. At the start, Truex bolted ahead with the lead on the outside lane. Logano retained the runner-up spot and Blaney muscled his way into third place while Kyle Busch retained fourth place over Bowman. Behind, teammates Bowyer and Almirola battled for sixth in front of Elliott while Jones and Hamlin were in the top 10. 

Down to the final 80 laps of the race, Truex, facing a “must-win” situation, was leading the field and over Penske teammates Blaney and Logano while Kyle Busch and Bowyer were in the top five. Elliott, Bowman and Hamlin were in sixth, seventh and eighth while Kurt Busch was in 11th. Keselowski, following his pit road speeding penalty, was in 16th and a few points below the cutline while Harvick was in 19th and currently inside the cutline by a narrow margin.

Five laps later, with 75 laps remaining, Truex stabilized his advantage by more than a second over Blaney with Logano trailing by more than two seconds. Elliott carved his way back into fourth place while Bowyer was in fifth ahead of Bowman. With Hamlin in eighth, Keselowski was in 15th behind Byron while Harvick was in 18th behind Ryan Newman. 

Another five laps later, with 70 laps remaining, the deficit between Keselowski and Harvick to the cutline to the championship finale round was down to a single point with Harvick, running in 18th, retaining the spot for a moment as Keselowski was in 14th behind Byron. 

As the run under the lights progressed, Elliott, who was now scored outside of the cutline, passed Logano for third place while Kurt Busch faded back to 10th place, two spots behind Hamlin. While Keselowski moved up to 12th, Harvick was still mired back in 18th behind Newman, who refused to surrender his spot.

With 59 laps remaining, the caution returned when William Byron spun due to a flat tire and made hard contact into the Turn 3 outside wall, thus demolishing the rear end of his No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE.

Under caution, the leaders pitted and Truex retained the lead after exiting pit road ahead of Logano, Elliott, Blaney, Bowman and Kyle Busch. Back on the track, Corey LaJoie remained on the track to assume the overall lead.

The race restarted under green with 51 laps remaining with LaJoie and Truex on the front row. At the start, Truex bolted ahead of LaJoie and the field for the lead while Logano and Elliott made a three-wide move on LaJoie in Turn 4 to move up with Elliott in second. While LaJoie was shuffled out of the picture, Elliott started to close in on Truex for the lead and a spot for the championship finale round. Logano was in third followed by Bowman and Kyle Busch while Kurt Bush was in sixth ahead of Blaney, Bowyer, Hamlin and DiBenedetto. 

With 45 laps remaining, the battle for the lead intensified as Elliott shoved his nose beneath Truex for the lead, though Truex retained his spot. Behind, Bowman started to challenge Logano for third place. 

Two laps later, the No. 9 Chevrolet of Elliott returned to the lead. By then, Elliott moved back into the cutline while Truex was shoved out. In addition, Harvick, who was back in 14th, was scored a single point ahead of Keselowski, who was in 10th, for another spot in the finale. 

Down to 40 laps remaining, Elliott started to stretch his advantage to more than a second over Truex with Logano, Bowman and Blaney in the top five. The Busch brothers were in sixth and seventh while Hamlin, Bowyer and Keselowski were in the top 10. Harvick was in 14th behind Jones and following on-track contact with Jones’ No. 20 Toyota Camry.

With 30 laps remaining, Elliott continued to stretch his advantage to more than two seconds over Truex, who radioed concerns about a possible loose right-front tire on his No. 19 Toyota Camry. Logano, Blaney and Bowman continued to run in the top five while Kurt Busch and Hamlin were in sixth and 11th. Keselowski carved his way to eighth behind Kyle Busch while Harvick was in 13th behind DiBenedetto. 

A few laps later, Truex surrendered his spot on the track to pit under green to address the loose wheel on his car. The pit stop all but evaporated Truex’s hopes of advancing to the Championship 4 round and contending for his second Cup title.

Back on the track, Harvick was in 12th behind Hamlin and scored below the cutline by a narrow margin while Keselowski, who was in fifth, moved back into the top-four cutline. Meanwhile, Elliott continued to flex his muscles as he led by more than four seconds over Blaney with Logano, Bowman and Keselowski in the top five.

Down to the final 20 leaps of the race, Elliott was still leading by more than four seconds over Blaney with Logano, Bowman and Keselowski in the top five. Kurt Busch was in sixth ahead of Kyle Busch, Almirola, Bowyer and DiBenedetto while Harvick passed Hamlin for 11th. By then, Hamlin’s hopes of advancing to the finale started to become dim as Hamlin, who was overtaken by Harvick for position, retained the final transfer spot to the finale by a narrow margin.

With 10 laps remaining, Elliott extended his advantage to more than five seconds over Blaney with Logano, Bowman and Keselowski in the top five. Kurt Busch was in sixth, Harvick was in 11th and Hamlin was in 12th while trying to fend off teammate Erik Jones for position. 

Shortly after, Keselowski passed Bowman for fourth. By then, Keselowski and Hamlin were inside the cutline by a narrow margin while Harvick was outside by a narrow margin.

Down to the final five laps of the race, Elliott’s advantage grew to nearly six seconds as he was on his way to the finale. Keselowski continued to run in fourth, Harvick continued to battle DiBenedetto for 10th while Hamlin was still in 12th in front of Jones. By then, Harvick was scored out of the cutline by a single point behind Keselowski and Hamlin. In addition, Hamlin had teammate Jones and Custer close in for position.

When the white flag waved, Elliott was leading by more than six seconds. Keselowski was still in fourth behind teammates Blaney and Logano, Harvick was in 10th and Hamlin was in 12th. 

With no challengers close behind his No. 9 Chevrolet, Elliott was able to smoothly navigate his way back to the finish line and claim his fourth checkered flag of the season. 

By winning his first grandfather clock at Martinsville and earning his career-best fourth victory of the 2020 campaign, Elliott, who was in his fourth appearance in the Round of 8 in the Playoffs, earned a one-way ticket to the Championship 4 round at Phoenix Raceway, the site of the finale, for the first time in his career. Elliott’s victory was also the record-leading 25th at Martinsville Speedway for Hendrick Motorsports as this also marks the first time since 2016 where a HMS and Chevrolet competitor will be a part of the Championship 4 round for the season finale.

“Oh, my gosh,” Elliott said on the frontstretch. “This is the biggest win ever for us. I’m just so proud to be able to be backed into a corner like that and have to win tonight. I feel like that’s what we’ve been missing these past four or five years and perform when we don’t have a choice. And, to do that tonight; we couldn’t ask for a better night. This is unreal. Thanks to the fans for coming out. They’re here and I love to see it! I’ve just got to catch my breath. This is just unbelievable. We’re going to Phoenix with a shot to win a championship and have a beautiful blue NAPA Camaro headed out there with a shot to win a title. What more could you ask for?”

Moments after Elliott won, all eyes were focused on Harvick, who closed in on Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota for ninth place. Needing Busch’s spot to have any hopes of making the finale, Harvick made contact with Kyle Busch entering Turn 4. Harvick’s plan to gain the spot, however, did not work as he also spun and came to rest on the inside wall and short of the finish line. His wreck allowed Keselowski and Hamlin to claim the final spots to the Championship 4 round while Harvick, who won a season-high nine races and was a potential title favorite, was left out of the title picture by eight points.

Blaney finished in second place followed by Logano, Keselowski and Kurt Busch. Bowman, Almirola and Bowyer finished sixth, seventh and eighth while Kyle Busch limped across the line in ninth. Hamlin finished 11th while Harvick salvaged a 17th-place result, the final car on the lead lap. Truex came home in 22nd.

Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski will compete for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series championship next weekend at Phoenix Raceway. 

“Just lost the handling there as soon as it went night,” Hamlin, who made it into the finale by nine points, said. “We were not very good. A lot of that too, I got up into sixth or seventh and some guys teammates were kind of rubbing up against you and it’s like, ‘yeah, I don’t want to cut a tire,’ so I backed out of that. Then we just fell to a spot that was a little more open. Proud of this whole FedEx Shipathon Toyota team. I feel bad for Kevin [Harvick], they probably deserve better than that. It’s just the format, I guess. Everything you do for eight innings doesn’t matter if you don’t have a great ninth inning. It’s just tough to see. I really wish we were going to race those guys next week. It will be a tough battle with those other three that we’re going to have to race. We’re definitely going to have to step up our short track program…If you have a bad race or two in a three-race series, you’re out. We’re very fortunate with our FedEx team to be able to lean on all the work that we did in the regular season, to get Playoffs points, win the most stages throughout the season than anyone else. We’re optimistic. We’ll see.”

“There was nothing I could do other than just pass as many cars as I could, look forward,” Keselowski, who transferred by eight points, said. “The last two runs, I don’t know if we were the best car, but we were close to it. Credits to [crew chief] Jeremy Bullins and the team. They just kept adjusting on it at the end. It was just frustrating because that pit road speeding penalty, I just did not see that coming. The place where I got the penalty was right outside my box. I didn’t even think it was possible to speed right there, but I was wrong. I know we’ve got great cars on these short tracks and one-mile track. We bring this kind of effort at the end of the race at Phoenix, we got a great shot at [the title].” 

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images.

Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch have been eliminated from the Playoffs and will set their title hopes for next season.

“Everybody kept battling there,” Harvick said. “I tried to run into the door of [Kyle Busch] as a last-ditch effort there and spun him out. Sorry to put him in a middle of trying to gain a point. Not a great three weeks. Didn’t go our way. We fought for everything we had and just came up short. These championships aren’t like winning like Petty and Earnhardt use to win them. You have to put them together three weeks at a time. It comes down to one race and it came down to one race for us tonight, and came up short.” 

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images.

“We had a great car all day long and just kept making adjustments waiting for it to cool off and get dark,” Truex, who fell 52 points shy, said. “That last run there before the final pit stop, the thing was on rails and it was perfect and we were driving away. I felt really good about it. Then we pitted and had a pretty good pit stop. Came out with the lead and right away I knew something was wrong. I was really, really tight and had a vibration.[Elliott] passed us and we started dropping and had to pit for a loose wheel. Unfortunate. I think we should be the one in Victory Lane right now, but you have to do it all. Just a little mistake there.”

“I drive this place so wrong,” Bowman, who fell 28 points shy, said. “I try to roll the centers really fast. We get it turned in and I’m like, ‘Oh, now, I don’t have any drive off.’ I look at the data and know what I need to do differently. Still can’t seem to figure out how to do it. All in all, a good day for our Planters Camaro. Really proud of Chase to make the Final Four…Bummed we’re not a part of that, but I think we have a solid shot at getting fifth in points. The progress this team’s made over the last two months has been incredible and I think that’s something they really deserve. We’ll go do all we can to make that happen at Phoenix. Driving this No. 88 car’s been special. Being a part of the Round of 8 was great. I think we had one of the best, if not the best average finish over the past three races. Just didn’t have the Playoff points coming in. We gotta perform every week like we have the last 12 or 13 weeks. We gotta do that all season long to be in contention to go to Phoenix. We gotta do a better job of that next year, but looking forward to the challenge.”

“We gave it all we had,” Kurt Busch, who fell 86 points shy, said. “Real proud of my guys. Chip Ganassi Racing put up a really good fight this year to get this far. To win and post top fives throughout the Playoffs, we crossed over a threshold. Last week, we finished seventh at Texas, fifth tonight and we’re walking around kicking the ground. When I started here two years ago, we finished in the top five and we’re celebrating. We’ve come that far in this short amount of time and I’m really proud of everybody back at the shop. To come here with a shot at it, we knew we had to win. It takes a team all the way through…Our weakest area was pit road and we know we need to work on that, but all in all, I can’t thank everybody enough. It’s cool to see the evolution of where we’ve come in two years.”

For other notables on the field, Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson finished eighth and 30th in their penultimate runs at Martinsville while Kenseth finished 14th in his penultimate run of this season with his racing status for the future uncertain. Christopher Bell finished 15th in the penultimate Cup run for Leavine Family Racing while Ty Dillon finished 16th in the penultimate Cup run for Germain Racing.

With one race remaining to the 2020 Cup Series season, Ford wrapped up the manufacturers’ title for the 17th time, first since 2018 and the first with the Ford Mustang stock car in the Cup circuit.

There were 20 lead changes for 10 different leaders. The race featured 12 cautions for 83 laps.

Results.

1. Chase Elliott, 236 laps led, Stage 2 winner

2. Ryan Blaney, 36 laps led

3. Joey Logano, 19 laps led

4. Brad Keselowski, three laps led

5. Kurt Busch, 23 laps led

6. Alex Bowman, one lap led

7. Aric Almirola

8. Clint Bowyer

9. Kyle Busch, five laps led

10. Matt DiBenedetto

11. Denny Hamlin, 42 laps led, Stage 1

12. Erik Jones

13. Cole Custer 

14. Matt Kenseth

15. Christopher Bell

16. Ty Dillon  

17. Kevin Harvick

18. Ryan Newman, one lap down

19. Ryan Preece, one lap down

20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. one lap down

21. Bubba Wallace, one lap down

22. Martin Truex Jr., one lap down, 129 laps led

23. Austin Dillon, two laps down

24. Tyler Reddick, two laps down

25. Corey LaJoie, two laps down, six laps led

26. John Hunter Nemechek, two laps down

27. Daniel Suarez, three laps down

28. Michael McDowell, three laps down

29. Timmy Hill, five laps down

30. Jimmie Johnson, five laps down

31. J.J. Yeley, six laps down

32. Josh Bilicki, 10 laps down

33. Quin Houff, 11 laps down

34. Joey Gase – OUT, Electrical

35. William Byron – OUT, Accident

36. James Davison – OUT, Electrical

37. Brennan Poole – OUT, Accident

38. Chris Buescher – OUT, Accident

39. Garrett Smithley – OUT, Electrical

Bold indicates Playoff contenders.

Playoff Standings

1. Joey Logano – Advanced

2. Chase Elliott – Advanced

3. Denny Hamlin – Advanced

4. Brad Keselowski – Advanced

5. Kevin Harvick – Eliminated

6. Alex Bowman – Eliminated

7. Martin Truex Jr. – Eliminated

8. Kurt Busch – Eliminated

The NASCAR Cup Series will travel to Phoenix Raceway for the season-finale 500-mile race and where the 2020 Cup champion will be crowned. The finale will occur on Sunday, November 8, at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.


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