Eight drivers entered, four would advance past the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Cup Series with a shot at a championship on Nov. 8 at the Phoenix Raceway. Joey Logano won the first race of the round a couple of weeks ago in Kansas to take one of the four spots to the final round. But, Kyle Busch won Wednesday night’s rain delayed race at Texas to allow for two wildcard spots for the taking.
That meant seven drivers trying to take three spots to Phoenix for Sunday’s Xfinity 500. If any of them could win, they’d take one of the three spots, leaving two for the other six.
That’s exactly what happened.
Chase Elliott dominated the race in leading 236 of the 500 laps at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway. He joins Logano into the final round. Everyone just assumed Kevin Harvick would have one of those spots as he entered Sunday’s race with a 42 point advantage over the cutline. Denny Hamlin (+27) and Brad Keselowski (+25) would battle for the fourth spot so long as someone below them won, which Elliott did.
With two points between them and both being very good at Martinsville, it could have been an epic fight. It was too, but it was between both and Harvick.
Hamlin, won the first stage and scored 18 stage points on the afternoon. Keselowski, had 12 points himself. Harvick, was shutout after having contract with Matt Kenseth on Lap 180. He’d fall two laps down after having to pit for repairs as a result.
Hamlin, would have to pit for a second time after the second stage ended though to tighten loose lug nuts. Keselowski, was speeding on pit road on Lap 404, the same caution to which gave Harvick is lap back finally.
It was a final 96 laps battle between Keselowski, Harvick and Hamlin for the final spot, so long as Elliott or Martin Truex Jr., who were 1-2 all day won.
They combined to lead 369 laps between them and were 1-2 in the closing laps. Elliott, passed Truex for the lead with 44 to go and never looked back. Truex, had a loose wheel and had to pit for an unscheduled stop.
Elliott, took a spot so the battle was on. Keselowski, finished fourth and took one of those spots. Hamlin, was 11th and took the final spot after Harvick, who was trying to get one more spot to tie Hamlin and advance to the Championship 4, spun and crashed while trying to get by Kyle Busch in the final corner on the final lap.
Harvick, was out after finishing 16th and 17th in the round. He had 67 playoff points for the taking and 42 points up, but lost out due to Elliott winning. He finished second in the opening race and led the most laps (85) at Kansas, but couldn’t get by Logano for the final 42 laps of the race. That cost him.
Truex Jr. finished runner-up to Kyle Busch in Texas as Busch ran out of gas on his cool down lap. If that race was one lap longer, Truex would be in and not have had to worry about Martinsville. Instead, he’s out.
Alex Bowman finished sixth for his third top six in as many Round of 8 races, but he’s out. He just didn’t have enough points accumulated this season to carry with him despite having a better round than most. He had eight top 10 finishes over his last 10 starts on the season but only four in the previous 23 races. He hasn’t won since March 1, literally eight months ago, which is why he’s also out.
Kurt Busch earned his first top five at Martinsville since his win in 2014 with a fifth place result on Sunday, but it was too little too late. Busch, was seventh last week but his blown engine in Kansas and just three top five’s now in his last 18 starts on the season keeps him out.