Bowman wins at Martinsville; Cup Championship 4 field set

The conclusion of the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, October 31, saw several competitors left with wrecked race cars and some expressing ill feelings towards others. Among those included several Playoff contenders fighting to remain in contention for the Championship 4 finale and the race winner, who had nothing to lose.

In the midst of the carnage and late chaos, Alex Bowman rallied from a late dust-up with Denny Hamlin to hold off Kyle Busch and claim his first triumph at Martinsville. The Tucson, Arizona, native served as the spoiler on a day where the Championship 4 field was set for next weekend’s finale at Phoenix Raceway.

The starting lineup was based on a performance metric formula, weighing the driver’s and owner’s results from a previous Cup event, the owner points position and the fastest lap recorded from a previous Cup race. With that, Kyle Larson, winner of the last three Cup scheduled events in the Playoffs, started on pole position and was joined on the front row with Chase Elliott, Larson’s teammate and the reigning Cup Series champion.

Prior to the event, Denny Hamlin, one of the remaining eight Playoff contenders who was scheduled to start in third place, dropped to the rear of the field after his No. 11 FedEx Toyota failed pre-race inspection twice.

When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Larson, who started on the outside lane, jumped ahead with an early advantage and cleared teammate Elliott for the top spot through the first two turns. As he led the first lap, Truex also moved up to second, dropping Elliott to third in front of Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch.

Through the first 10 laps of the event, Larson’s No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE was out in front by eight-tenths of a second over Truex’s No. 19 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota Camry while Elliott, Keselowski and Logano were in the top five. Kyle Busch was in sixth followed by Logano, Kurt Busch, Ryan Blaney, Christopher Bell and Kevin Harvick. By then, Hamlin was in 29th behind Ryan Newman.

Ten laps later, Larson, who started to encounter lapped traffic, extended his advantage to more than a second over Truex, who had Elliott pressuring him for the runner-up spot. Playoff contenders Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Logano and Blaney were all still in the top 10 while Hamlin  was preparing to move into the top 25.

Another 10 laps later, Larson continued to lead by more than a second over Truex and Elliott. With seven of the eight remaining Playoff contenders running first through seventh, Hamlin was mired in 25th behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Matt DiBenedetto.

By Lap 40, Larson was in heavy traffic despite leading by more than a second. Meanwhile, teammate Elliott overtook Truex for second place while Hamlin was still mired outside the top 20 in 23rd behind Cole Custer and within Larson’s sights of being lapped.

Through the first 50 laps of the event, Larson had his advantage decreased to less than half a second amid lapped traffic and with teammate Elliott catching him. While Truex, Keselowski and Kyle Busch were in the top five, Hamlin was in 21st behind Erik Jones. Logano was in sixth and teammate Blaney was in ninth.

Six laps later, Elliott muscled his No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE to the lead after overtaking teammate Larson through Turns 3 and 4. 

When the competition caution flew on Lap 60, Elliott retained the lead ahead of teammate Larson and Truex while Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Logano, William Byron, Alex Bowman, Blaney and Austin Dillon were in the top 10. By then, Hamlin, who remained on the lead lap, was in 20th behind Erik Jones. In addition, only 22 of 38 competitors were on the lead lap.

Under the competition caution, the leaders pitted and Larson reassumed the lead after exiting his pit stall in first place ahead of teammate Elliott, Truex, Keselowski, Logano and Kyle Busch. Following the pit stops, Hamlin was penalized for speeding on pit road and sent to the rear of the field once again.

Seven laps later, the race restarted under green. At the start, Larson received another strong start on the outside lane to retain the lead through the first two turns and coming back to the start/finish line. Behind, Elliott battled Keselowski for second while Truex battled Byron for fourth. Soon after, Elliott cleared the field to retain second while Truex went to work on Keselowski for third. The following lap, Truex cleared Keselowski to retain third while Logano challenged Byron for fifth. 

Just past the Lap 70 mark, the caution returned when Daniel Suarez made contact with Ryan Newman, sending Newman spinning in Turn 4 as he collected Michael McDowell while Hamlin carved his way through the incident.

On Lap 76, the race restarted under green. At the start, Larson again rocketed ahead with a strong start on the outside lane before moving back to the inside lane. Behind, Elliott retained second while Truex challenged Keselowski for third. 

A few laps later, Keselowski dropped to fifth as Truex and William Byron moved up the leaderboard. While Kyle Busch and Blaney were in eighth and ninth, Hamlin was in 21st behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

On Lap 85, Elliott returned to the lead after overtaking teammate Larson for the top spot.

By Lap 90, Elliott was leading by eight-tenths of a second over teammate Larson while Truex, Byron and Keselowski remained in the top five. Kyle Busch, Logano and Blaney were in sixth, seventh and eighth while Hamlin was in 20th behind Erik Jones. 

A few laps later, Blaney made contact with Austin Dillon entering the frontstretch and while battling in the top 10, which resulted with the left-rear fender of Blaney’s No. 12 Menards/Richmond Ford Mustang sustaining cosmetic damage near the fuel cell.

Through the first 100 laps of the event, Elliott was leading by nearly six-tenths of a second over teammate Larson while Truex, Byron and Keselowski were in the top five. Kyle Busch and Logano were in sixth and seventh while Blaney, who was struggling with he left-rear damage, was back in 11th behind Austin Dillon, Alex Bowman and Christopher Bell. Meanwhile, Hamlin was in 16th behind Kevin Harvick, Bubba Wallace and Stenhouse.

Twenty laps later, Elliott, who was surrounded in lapped traffic, continued to lead by half a second over teammate Larson while Truex, Byron, Keselowski and Kyle Busch were in the top six. Logano was in eighth, Blaney was in 12th and Hamlin was in 14th behind Harvick.

When the first stage concluded on Lap 130, Elliott claimed his fifth stage victory of the season. Teammate Larson settled in second followed by Truex, Byron, Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Bowman, Logano and Aric Almirola. Blaney was in 12th behind Bell and Hamlin remained in 14th behind Harvick. 

Under the stage break, the leaders returned to pit road and upon exiting the pits, Larson reassumed the lead followed by teammate Elliott, Truex, Kyle Busch, Keselowski and Byron. However, early disaster struck for Larson, who was busted for speeding on pit road and sent to the rear of the field. 

The second stage started on Lap 140 as Elliott and Truex occupied the front row. At the start, Elliott retained the lead over Truex through the first two turns as Kyle Busch battled Keselowski for third. 

A few laps later, Keselowski, who was mired on the outside lane, settled in sixth in between Bell and teammate Logano as Elliott led a long single-file line around the circuit.

By Lap 150, Elliott continued to lead by nearly four-tenths of a second over Truex while Kyle Busch, Byron and Bell were in the top five. Keselowski settled in sixth ahead of Bowman, Logano, Harvick and Almirola. Behind, Hamlin was in 11th in front of Bubba Wallace, Blaney was in 18th in between Tyler Reddick and rookie Chase Briscoe, and Larson was in 21st behind Austin Dillon.

Ten laps later, Elliott stabilized his advantage to seven-tenths of a second over Truex while Byron was up in third. By then, Hamlin cracked the top 10 in 10th while Logano was back in 12th. In addition, Larson was back up in the top 20 while Blaney was still mired in 18th.

Another 15 laps later, Elliott continued to lead by more than a second over Truex while Byron, Bowman and Kyle Busch were in the top five. Keselowski was in seventh, Hamlin was up in ninth, Logano was back in 13th, Larson was in 15th and Blaney was back in 19th.

Nearing the Lap 200 mark, the caution flew due to an incident involving Austin Dillon in Turn 2, where Dillon lost a right-front tire and smacked the outside wall. At the time of caution, Blaney, who was 19th, was just able to remain ahead of the race leader Elliott and on the lead lap.

Under caution, the leaders pitted and Truex emerged with the lead after exiting the pits in first followed by Elliott, Byron, Bowman and Kyle Busch. Following the event, Tyler Reddick was penalized for speeding on pit road.

When the race restarted on Lap 202, Truex briefly retained the lead through the first two turns until Elliott fought back entering Turn 3 on the outside lane. After remaining dead even through the frontstretch, past the start/finish line and entering the first turn, Elliott muscled his No. 9 Chevrolet back to the lead through the backstretch on Lap 205. 

With Elliott leading, Truex retained second ahead of Byron while Kyle Busch was in fourth ahead of Bowman, Bell and Keselowski. Hamlin and Larson were in eighth and ninth while Logano was falling back in 17th ahead of teammate Blaney.

By Lap 225, Elliott was leading by more than a second over teammate Byron while Truex, Bowman and Kyle Busch were in the top five. Bell, Hamlin, Keselowski, Almirola and Larson were in the top 10 while Team Penske’s Blaney and Logano were mired back in 17th and 18th. 

Fifteen laps later, three Hendrick Motorsports competitors (Elliott, Bowman and Byron) were leading three Joe Gibbs Racing competitors (Truex, Bell and Hamlin). Keselowski and Larson were in ninth and 11th, Kyle Busch was in eighth behind Aric Almiorla, Blaney was in 14th behind Chris Buescher and Logano was still mired in 18th behind Bubba Wallace and Erik Jones.

At the halfway mark on Lap 250, Elliott continued to lead by more than a second over teammate Bowman while third-place Byron trailed by more less than two seconds. Truex retained fourth while Hamlin cracked the top five in fifth ahead of teammate Bell. Almirola, Kyle Busch, Keselowski and Kurt Busch were in the top 10 while Larson, Blaney and Logano were in 11th, 14th and 18th. 

When the second stage concluded on Lap 260, Elliott, who was mired in lapped traffic, captured his sixth stage victory of the season. Teammates Bowman and Byron settled in second and third followed by Truex and Hamlin while Bell, Almirola, Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch rounded out the top 10. Larson ended up 11th, Blaney was in 13th and Logano was mired in 18th. By then, half of the 38 starters were scored on the lead lap.

By virtue of capturing both stage victories of the event and accumulating maximum stage points, Elliott became the second competitor to clinch a spot in the Championship 4 round alongside teammate Larson as he will receive an opportunity to defend his series championship.

Following both stages, teammates Hamlin and Truex were scored inside the top-four cutline to transfer to the Championship 4 finale while Kyle Busch, Keselowski, Blaney and Logano were scored outside the cutline.

Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Elliott, Bowman, Hamlin, Almirola, Byron and Truex. Following the pit stops, Kyle Busch was sent to the rear of the field for speeding on pit road. 

With 231 laps remaining, the final stage commenced. At the start, Elliott managed to clear teammate Bowman on the outside lane to retain the lead. Behind, Bowman retained second while Hamlin battled Almirola for third. Behind, Truex battled Larson for sixth as Hamlin took over third ahead of Almirola and Byron.

Ten laps later, Elliott was leading by more than a second over Hamlin, who overtook Bowman for the runner-up spot. Byron and Almirola were in the top five followed by Truex, Bell, Larson, Kurt Busch and Keselowski. Blaney was in 11th behind teammate Keselowski, Logano was in 17th and Kyle Busch was mired back in 20th behind Reddick. By then, Justin Haley pitted under green after experiencing a major left-rear tire rub.

Another 10 laps later, Elliott continued to lead while teammates Bowman and Byron moved up to second and third, dropping Hamlin to fourth.

Down to the final 200 laps of the event, Elliott was leading by nearly two seconds over teammate Bowman while third-place Byron trailed by more than three seconds. Hamlin remained in fourth ahead of Almirola followed by Truex and Larson while Bell, Blaney and Kurt Busch were in the top 10. Keselowski was in 11th, teammate Logano was in 15th and Kyle Busch was in 19th.

Ten laps later, the caution returned when Michael McDowell made contact with Corey LaJoie entering Turn 3, which resulted with LaJoie getting into Josh Bilicki and sending Bilicki sideways and into the outside wall.

Under caution, the leaders returned to pit road and Elliott, Hamlin, Bowman, Byron, Truex and Almirola. Following the pit stops, Wallace was penalized for speeding on pit road.

With 181 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Elliott rocketed away with the lead on the inside lane while Hamlin spun the tires on the topside lane as he was hit in the rear by Byron’s No. 24 Liberty University Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE.

While Elliott retained the lead, Bowman also remained in second while Hamlin battled Truex for third. Shortly after, the caution flew due to an incident in Turn 3 involving Bilicki and Quin Houff, who made contact into the outside wall after being bumped by Bilicki. Following the incident, Houff retaliated by turning Bilicki in the backstretch. As a result, Houff was held five seconds in his pit stall as a penalty.

With 171 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Elliott retained the lead following a strong start on the outside lane over teammate Bowman while Hamlin stabilized himself in third ahead of teammate Truex and Byron. Behind, Almirola was in sixth while Larson battled with Bell for seventh. 

Under the final 170 laps of the event, more issues came for Blaney, who was inside the top 15 but experiencing a left-rear tire rub near his damaged spot.

With 161 laps remaining, the caution returned when Newman, Cole Custer and Ross Chastain made contact entering Turn 2, which resulted with Newman getting sideways, clipping Chastain and making contact into the outside wall while Chastain went up the track in Turn 3 with a flat right-front tire and damage to the right side of his No. 42 Clover Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. As Chastain was trying to continue, Newman bumped into the side of Chastain’s car to express his displeasure for the contact.

Under caution, the leaders led by Elliott pitted while Joey Logano remained on the track. 

With 155 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Logano, faced in a “must-win” situation to retain his title hopes, retained the lead through the backstretch ahead of Elliott. Behind, Bowman was in third while teammate Larson challenged Truex for fourth. 

Six laps remaining, Elliott, racing on four fresh tires, reassumed the lead. Not long after, teammates Bowman and Larson methodically overtook Logano’s No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang for second and third as Truex then issued a challenge on Logano. 

With 142 laps remaining, the caution flew when Cole Custer spun in Turn 4. During the caution period, Truex radioed concerns about his car pushing water despite continuing in fourth.

Four laps later, the race restarted under green. At the start, Elliott aced the launch with a strong start on the outside lane, where he was pursued by Bowman, Truex and Larson. Behind, Byron moved into fifth while Hamlin challenged Logano for sixth. 

With 122 laps remaining, the caution returned when Daniel Suarez spun in Turn 2.

Under caution, the leaders pitted and Elliott exited as the leader followed by Truex, Hamlin, Byron, Logano and Kyle Busch. Following the pit stops, Larson was nabbed with his second pit road speeding penalty of the day. In addition, Matt DiBenedetto was being held a lap for pitting outside his pit box.

Back on the track, Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick remained on the track along with Custer while Elliott, the first competitor on four fresh tires, were in fourth. 

With 116 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Austin Dillon briefly retained the lead for a full lap under green before Truex, who was ready to go on the restart and drew himself alongside Dillon, made his way into the lead the following lap. Behind, Hamlin made his way into the runner-up spot over Dillon while Elliott was mired in sixth behind Reddick and Logano.

With 111 laps remaining, Hamlin, following his eventful drive to the front all race long, emerged with the lead. 

A few laps later, Elliott made contact with Logano in Turn 1, where he nearly turned Logano before he took over the fourth spot. Meanwhile, Hamlin continued to lead ahead of teammate Truex and Austin Dillon. 

Down to the final 100 laps of the event and with the field scrambling around the track, Hamlin was leading by half a second over teammate Truex while Elliott, Austin Dillon and Bowman were in the top five. Logano was in sixth while Kyle Busch, Keselowski and Byron battled for positions. Blaney was in 16th while Larson was in 21st.  

Ten laps later, Hamlin stabilized his advantage to half a second over teammate Truex while third-place Elliott continued to trail by more than a second. Logano, Keselowski and Kyle Busch remained in the top 10 while Blaney and Larson remained inside the top 20.

Another 15 laps later, Hamlin continued to lead by more than a second over teammate Truex. Bowman was up in third ahead of teammate Elliott while Keselowski, currently situated on the outside of the top-four cutline, was in fifth. Austin Dillon continued to ride strong in sixth while Logano, Byron, Almirola and Bell were in the top 10. Kyle Busch, who continued to deal with handling issues to his No. 18 M&M’s Halloween Toyota Camry, was in 11th ahead of brother Kurt while Blaney and Larson were in 15th and 16th. 

With 64 laps remaining, the caution flew when Austin Dillon blew a right-front tire and made contact with the Turn 2 outside wall for a second time.

Under caution, the leaders returned to pit road and Hamlin exited with the lead followed by Bowman, Elliott, Truex and Keselowski.

With less than 60 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Hamlin retained the lead ahead of Bowman. While Elliott was in third, Truex was in fourth ahead of Byron and Keselowski. 

Shortly after, Bowman issued a challenge on Hamlin for the lead. Despite Bowman’s efforts in overtaking Hamlin for the lead, Hamlin retained the lead. Behind, Keselowski, now within striking distance of making the top-four cutline to the finale, was mired in fourth and aggressively racing against Elliott for more. Meanwhile, Truex slipped to sixth in front of teammate Kyle Busch as he started to experience a left-front tire rub to his car. 

With 46 laps remaining, the caution flew when Keselowski ran into the side of Elliott as Elliott spun in Turn 3, though he continued and pitted to have the damage repaired on his car. The incident occurred as both Cup champions were repeatedly battling for third place, with Keselowski wasting no time making his way to the front. 

Six laps later, the race restarted under green. At the start, Hamlin retained the top spot ahead of Bowman and Keselowski. Not long after, the caution returned when Stenhouse spun in Turn 4 beneath Larson while Wallace sustained heavy damage to the front nose of his No. 23 DoorDash Toyota Camry after running into the rear of Elliott’s car.

Down to the final 34 laps of the event, the race restarted under green. At the start, Hamlin rocketed away with another strong start while Keselowski battled Bowman for the runner-up spot. 

Soon after, Truex, who was running behind Keselowski and Bowman with both making contact and resulting with Bowman getting a left-front tire rub, began to challenge both for second place. He attempted to make a three-wide move on both, but backed out and lost time and a handful of spots outside of the top five.

Then, Almirola made contact with Truex while battling him for sixth in Turn 1, which sent Truex wide. As Truex was trying to come back down to his rhythm, Kurt Busch made contact into him as Truex smacked the outside wall and lost more spots on the track. Soon after, the caution returned when Ryan Preece spun in Turn 2. By then, Truex was scored outside of the top-four cutline along with Keselowski while Kyle Busch found himself inside the cutline by a single point.

With 23 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Hamlin received another strong start on the inside lane to retain the lead while Bowman overtook Keselowski for second. The following lap, Bowman made his way into the lead. Hamlin, however, fought back in Turn 1 and bumped into Bowman to reassume the lead. 

Behind Hamlin, Kyle Busch challenged Bowman for second along with Keselowski and Byron. Truex, meanwhile, was in 10th.

With 15 laps remaining, Hamlin continued to lead by a narrow margin over Bowman while Kyle Busch was trying to fend off Keselowski and Byron for third. Truex was in eighth, Logano was in 10th and Blaney was in 12th. 

A few laps later, Bowman issued another side-by-side challenge for the lead against Hamlin, but he was unable to seal the deal as Hamlin retained the lead. 

Down to the final 10 laps, Hamlin continued to lead by a narrow margin over Bowman. Kyle Busch and Keselowski were in third and fourth while Truex was in eighth while challenging Kurt Busch for a position. Once Truex overtook Kurt Busch for seventh, he moved back into the cutline by a single point over Kyle Busch with Keselowski trailing by six.

Then, the caution returned three laps later when Bowman, following his late intense, repetitive battle with Hamlin, made contact into Hamlin, sending Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota spinning into the Turn 3 outside wall, though Hamlin continued with little left-rear damage. The incident now placed Hamlin, who pitted for repairs, within the bubble zone of remaining inside the top-four cutline.

With the race sent into overtime, Bowman and Kyle Busch occupied the front row ahead of Keselowski and Truex. At the start, Bowman was able to retain the lead ahead of Kyle Busch, Keselowski and the field.

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Bowman was still ahead by two-tenths of a second over a hard-charging Kyle Busch, who had to win to keep his title hopes alive. While Busch tried to establish a final lap effort, he could not close in to the rear bumper of Bowman’s No. 48 Chevrolet as Bowman continued to lead through Turn 3. Finally, through Turn 4 and while Busch had to maintain second ahead of Keselowski, Bowman was able to come back around and claim the checkered flag following an eventful turn of events.

The victory at Martinsville was Bowman’s fourth of the season and the sixth of his Cup career despite having his title hopes evaporated following the Round of 12. Bowman’s win was enough for Chevrolet to achieve its 40th Cup manufacturer’s title and first since 2015.

While trying to celebrate on the frontstretch, however, Bowman could not escape controversy as Hamlin, who ended the race in 24th place, pulled his car alongside Bowman’s. While Bowman attempted to pull away and tried to celebrate by looping the car around, Hamlin immediately pulled his car in front of Bowman’s and smoked his tires while pushing against Bowman’s and giving him two obscene gestures before he drove away under orders from his crew. Once Hamlin was gone, Bowman saluted the fans, who greeted him with a chorus of cheers, and claimed the checkered flag.

“I just got loose in,” Bowman said on NBC. “I got in too deep, knocked [Hamlin] out of the way and literally, let him have the lead back. For anybody who wants to think that I was trying to crash him, that obviously wasn’t the case, considering I literally gave up the lead at Martinsville to give it back to him. He’s been on the other side of that. He’s crashed guys here for wins. I hate doing it. Obviously, I don’t want to crash somebody. I just got in, got loose underneath him and spun him out. Regardless, we get a freakin’ Grandfather Clock. It’s pretty special. I’ve struggled here for a long time. I was trying to get the flag, do a backwards victory lap. Obviously, like I said, [I] hate we wrecked [Hamlin], but man, how about that for Chevrolet and Ally and everybody on this No. 48 team. The No. 48 car’s won here a bunch. It’s cool to do it again…Part of short track racing.” 

Despite the incident, Hamlin’s 24th-place result was enough for him to earn a spot in the Championship 4 finale, where he will contend for his first NASCAR Cup Series championship. Hamlin, however, did not mince his words or ill feelings to Bowman following the incident and missing an opportunity of winning at his home track.

“[Bowman]’s just a hack,” Hamlin, who received a chorus of boos from the crowd, said. “He’s just an absolute hack. He gets his [expletive] kicked by his teammates every week. He’s [expletive] terrible, just terrible. He sees one opportunity and he takes it. Obviously, he’s got the fastest car every week and he runs 10th. He didn’t want to race us there. We had a good clean race. I moved up as high as I could on the racetrack to give him all the room I could and he still can’t drive. We got in [the Playoffs]. We did what we had to do, but I just wanted to race there at the end. He’s just terrible.”

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images.

Behind Bowman, Kyle Busch claimed second over Keselowski just before Keselowski, who made contact with Busch prior to the finish line, turned Busch in Turn 1 after the checkered flag. Truex held on for fourth place over Byron and was able to claim the fourth and final transfer spot to the Championship 4 finale by three points, where he will contend for his second Cup title. Busch and Keselowski, however, were eliminated from the Playoffs.

“The Auto-Owners Toyota Camry was good, first of all,” Truex said. “We had a solid day. We weren’t the winning car, but we were a third- or fourth-place car all day long and that’s where we ran. Everything’s going smooth and then, [Keselowski] and [Kyle Busch] came up there at the front kind of out of nowhere. I got some damage running side-by-side with [Keselowski], fell back and then, [Almirola] stuffed me three wide or whatever out of the groove down there in Turn 1 and 2 and then, the marbles and then, [Kurt Busch] come by and clip my left front, drove me into the fence off of [Turn] 2. I was like, ‘Oh damn, we’re in big trouble here.’ Then, [the crew] say we’re out. Just dig deep, fight back and do all we could do after that. [I] Got a little break after that last restart. A bunch of guys went to the bottom [lane] and I’d seen the hole up there and I was like, ‘I gotta go for it.’ That worked out for us. Just thanks to everybody that helps us all year long to get to this point, everybody at the shop…Hopefully, we can go to Phoenix next week and make [my partners] proud. We’re excited. That’s what we do this for. All these guys work so hard all week and all year long to have this opportunity. It’s a dream come true for me. I love racing with these guys. I love having this opportunity. We’ve had it before. We won one [championship] and lost a few really, really close. We’ll see what we can do. We had a great race at Phoenix in the spring and learned a lot about that racetrack. Hopefully, we can duplicate it.”

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images.

“We just missed last week [at Kansas Speedway],” Kyle Busch said. “That’s where we lost all the ground. Couldn’t come in here with 15 more points and we would’ve been fine on the cut, but it just wasn’t it and wasn’t meant to be. Obviously, it was Truex’s day. We had a Hail Mary opportunity there at the end and just didn’t materialize. All in all, just proud of the effort, for sure. We swung everything and anything at this thing today, and just couldn’t really make it come alive. Great effort. That was there, for sure. We just got to get better, with everybody included, the whole team, in order to be able to go race with the best and race for a championship, and we’re not gonna do that this year. Anytime you go into a season with Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing, this No. 18 M&M’s team, myself, you expect to be in contention and eligible [for the championship]. Anything other than that is a failure. I guess you get an F.”

“Well, at the start of the race, we were OK, and then, we got really tight in the middle of the race, finally got it freed up and the car started rolling,” Keselowski, who missed the cutline by eight points, said. “At the end, it was just super free. I was so loose. I got underneath [Elliott], got loose and spun him out, just all I could do to hold on to the car. We got it better and put ourselves in position. Just wasn’t quite strong enough there at the end. Disappointing. All in all, we gave it a great run here. Wished I could have last week at Kansas back, that’s for sure. I felt like I left the eight points that we were short there with some mistakes I made. All in all, proud of our team, proud of the effort that everybody put in. Disappointed for Team Penske to not get through to the final round, but we gave it our best. Frustrating day…Super proud of everything we’ve done together.”

Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. have made the Championship 4 round and will contend for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship. Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano have been eliminated from title contention.

“We’re moving on,” Elliott, who finished 16th, said. “That’s all that matters. I had a really fast NAPA Chevy early. I made a couple of mistakes and think led us down the wrong path for those last couple runs, unfortunately. The pace was certainly in the car. Great day for Hendrick Motorsports. Got two cars going into Phoenix and Alex getting the win. Wished we could’ve won it. I hate to be so fast all day and it not work out, but obviously, next week is what matters. That’s where our heads are at. Excited to get out there and have another shot at it…Really proud of this group to make it for a second consecutive year and being amongst those four cars is a big deal. Very excited to have a shot. I think we can run with the best of them and we’re looking forward to the opportunity.”

“Just a really bad job executing on my part,” Larson, who finished 14th, said. “Just way too aggressive on pit road, but me being locked in to the next round, I could be a little more aggressive. Just too aggressive too many times. My car was pretty decent the first half and I started getting tight in the middle. We adjusted on it. Then, I sped [on pit road] again and I was just stuck in traffic. [I] Knew I wasn’t gonna have a shot to win, so I was just trying not to piss anybody off. Came away with 14th. We’ll go on to Phoenix and try to get a championship.”

“From the get-go, we were struggling to get [the car] turning to two-thirds,” Logano, who finished 10th, said. “We raised the track bar and that made it loose everywhere except where I wanted it to turn. Put that back, tried something else and got at least closer, but all we’re doing is compromising at that point. We weren’t good enough. We didn’t get in, wasn’t close enough, didn’t fire off as fast enough. Now, we’ll got to Phoenix and try to finish as high as we can with the Shell/Pennzoil Mustang and this team. We fought hard this season. We just weren’t fast enough. We’ll fire away next week.” 

“Overall, we just kind of missed it,” Blaney, who finished 11th, added. “We weren’t really great from the get-go. Worked hard on it all day. Had one run, I thought, we’d kind of got where we needed to be, drove up to eighth or seventh. I was like, ‘Alright, we got something now we can really work on.’ We made a change. The next run, we were back to where we were…Just wasn’t really the right combination today. Stinks, but appreciate everybody on the No. 12 group for working on it all night. It was wild out there, that’s for sure. Stinks we’re not gonna race for a championship at Phoenix, but I appreciate all the hard work this year…Still got one more race. Hopefully, we can go have a good run and maybe, get [crew chief] Todd [Gordon] one more win before he hangs it up.”

Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch, Erik Jones, Chris Buescher and Logano completed the top 10 on the track at Martinsville.

There were 15 lead changes for seven different leaders. The race featured 15 cautions for 91 laps.

Results.

1. Alex Bowman, nine laps led

2. Kyle Busch

3. Brad Keselowski

4. Martin Truex Jr., nine laps led

5. William Byron

6. Aric Almirola

7. Kurt Busch

8. Erik Jones

9. Chris Buescher

10. Joey Logano, nine laps led

11. Ryan Blaney

12. Kevin Harvick

13. Austin Dillon, five laps led

14. Kyle Larson, 77 laps led

15. Matt DiBenedetto

16. Chase Elliott, 289 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner

17. Christopher Bell 

18. Tyler Reddick

19. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

20. Anthony Alfredo

21. Corey LaJoie

22. Chase Briscoe

23. Cole Custer

24. Denny Hamlin, 103 laps led

25. Bubba Wallace

26. Michael McDowell, two laps down

27. Ross Chastain, three laps down

28. Daniel Suarez, three laps down

29. BJ McLeod, five laps down

30. Cody Ware, six laps down

31. Justin Haley, nine laps down

32. Ryan Newman, 10 laps down

33. Garrett Smithley, 11 laps down

34. Quin Houff, 18 laps down

35. Josh Bilicki, 87 laps down

36. Ryan Preece – OUT, Brakes

37. Timmy Hill – OUT, Engine

38. Joey Gase – OUT, Electrical

Bold indicates Playoff contenders.

Playoff standings.

1. Kyle Larson – Advanced

2. Chase Elliott – Advanced

3. Denny Hamlin – Advanced

4. Martin Truex Jr. – Advanced

5. Kyle Busch – Eliminated

6. Brad Keselowski – Eliminated

7. Ryan Blaney – Eliminated

8. Joey Logano – Eliminated

With the Championship 4 field set, the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season is set to conclude next weekend at Phoenix Raceway. The finale is scheduled to occur on Sunday, November 7, at 3 p.m. ET on NBC, where a champion will be crowned.



The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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