Bowman bumps Hamlin out of the way en route to Xfinity 500 victory at Martinsville, how both drivers feel about it with the top 5 takeaways as the Championship 4 is now set

MARTINSVILLE, VA — Denny Hamlin provided the perfect capstone to a day of banged-up stock cars, hurt feelings and crushed dreams.

 

Alex Bowman took the checkered flag in Sunday’s Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway after sliding up into Hamlin’s race-leading Toyota on Lap 494 of 501 and knocking Hamlin’s car up the track and into the outside wall.

 

As Bowman tried to start a burnout to celebrate his fourth NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season and his first at the .526-mile short track, Hamlin drove to the frontstretch and expressed his displeasure by twice blocking the progress of Bowman’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

 

“I just got loose in,” Bowman said of the accident that gave him the lead. “I got in too deep (into Turn 3), knocked him out of the way and literally let him have the lead back. For anybody that wants to think I was trying to crash him, obviously that 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 underneath him, spun him out… Regardless, we get a free grandfather clock (trophy), which is pretty special.”

 

By the time Bowman took the checkered flag, his teammate, defending Cup champion Chase Elliott already had clinched a spot in next Sunday’s Championship 4 race at Phoenix by sweeping the first two stages of the event.

 

Elliott joins another teammate, two-time Round of 8 winner Kyle Larson, Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. in the quartet that will vie for the series title at the one-mile track in the Sonoran Desert.

 

With a damaged car that had slapped the outside wall at the exit of Turn 2 on Lap 471, Truex eked out his berth in the championship race by three points over Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch, who finished second to Truex’s fourth but lost his slim pre-race advantage in the first two stages.

 

Eliminated from the Playoff with Busch were the Team Penske Fords of Brad Keselowski (third Sunday and eight points below the cutoff), Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano.

 

Hamlin, who started from the rear after his car twice failed pre-race inspection, had enough of a margin entering the race that his 24th-place finishing position didn’t cost him a chance at the championship. But that was little consolation for the lost opportunity to add to his collection of five grandfather clocks.

 

“He’s just a hack,” Hamlin said of the race winner. “Just an absolute hack. He gets his ass kicked by his teammates every week. He’s (expletive) terrible. He’s just terrible. He sees one opportunity, he takes it.

 

“Obviously, he’s got the fast car of the 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 race track to give him all the room I could—he still can’t drive.”

 

Lane choice helped Truex gain the final four after Aric Almirola got loose and forced him up the track on Lap 471, costing Truex positions and the eventual scrape with the wall. Truex gained spots on the subsequent restart on Lap 478 and chose the outside lane—directly behind Busch—for the final restart on Lap 500.

 

“I have no idea how we finished fourth,” Truex said of the contact with the wall. “I’m going to buy a lottery ticket on the way home.”

 

Even though Busch struggled with the handling of his No. 18 Toyota throughout the afternoon at Martinsville, he blamed his 28th-place finish last weekend at Kansas for his failure to advance to the Championship 4 Round.

 

“We just missed last week,” said the two-time series champion—and the only active driver with more than one title. “That’s where we lost all the ground. Could have come in here with 15 more points, we would have been fine on the cut. Just wasn’t it. Wasn’t meant to be. Obviously, it was Truex’s day. We had a Hail Mary opportunity there at the end. Just didn’t materialize.

 

“All in all, just proud of the effort for sure. We slung everything and anything at this thing today, couldn’t really make it come alive. Great effort. That was there, for sure. We’ve just got to get better, everybody included, the whole team, in order to be able to go race with the best and race for a championship. We’re not going to do that this year.”

 

Neither will Bowman, who was eliminated from the Playoffs in the Round of 12. But the victory at NASCAR’s most venerable track, which will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year, was ample compensation.

 

Not to mention the free clock.



Hendrick Motorsports Improvement on 750 Tracks Showed, Why This Is A Great Sign For Next Week

I wrote entering this weekend that Hendrick Motorsports’ advantage this season may be over. They had dominated the 550 tracks but on 750’s, especially short tracks like we’d face in the final two races of the season, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske were the clear top dogs. 

In the two spring races at Phoenix and Martinsville, Kyle Larson had one combined lap led. He led a total of eight laps in both Richmond races this season at that. 

Chase Elliott didn’t lead many laps at either stops himself. Neither did their teammates. So, would this open the door for JGR or Penske to steal away the title from them over the final two weeks?

Well, Penske is now out after regressing with Hendrick now battling JGR for the championship next Sunday in Phoenix. Is this now JGR’s title to lose?

I’d say all those hopes were dashed on Sunday in the playoff Martinsville race. HMS’ speed was eye opening as the led 375 of the 501 laps and took the win by a non playoff driver by Alex Bowman to land a clean sweep of the third round of the playoffs. 

That bodes well for next weekend in Phoenix where the Championship 4 drivers are likely going to be in the top five for most of the race. Elliott, didn’t have much Phoenix success heading to this point last year but there he was winning the season finale and taking home his first championship as a result. 

He led a race-high 289 laps on Sunday including a clean sweep of both stages. If not for Brad Keselowski punting him out of the way towards the end, he was heading towards at the very minimum a top three finish this weekend. 

I like where HMS is at heading to Phoenix. The Phoenix winner from this past spring in Martin Truex Jr. wasn’t too shocked to see HMS’ gain in speed on Sunday at Martinsville. 

“I mean, I’m not surprised as fast as they’ve been all year,” he said. “They’ve typically been pretty good here. 9 has always been strong here. The 24 has been pretty good the last few trips. Now the 48 is really, really fast. The 5 was really fast as well, which is not surprising. They’ve all been super fast all year. We had our hands full with them today.

“Hopefully next weekend we can find a little bit of something, give them a run for their money”



Where Did The Team Penske Speed Go? All 3 Drivers Eliminated As Ford Shutout Of The Championship 4

With HMS gaining, someone had to fall. That someone was Team Penske. For just the third time in this playoff format era that was adopted in 2014, they won’t have a driver fighting for a championship in the season finale. It also shuts Ford out of the Championship 4 for the first time ever too.

What’s baffling is, Team Penske has been great on 750 tracks this season and called them their bread-and-butter. While all three drivers entered Martinsville below the cutline, Martinsville was historically a strong track for them. Ryan Blaney swept both stages this past spring and had a pair of runner-ups here a year ago. Brad Keselowski had nine top fives in his last 11 starts on the Virginia paperclip while Joey Logano won this race just a few years ago. They had a realistic chance of getting someone by to Phoenix next week with a shot at a championship.

They even showed up with the same setups that worked in the spring race but instead left with no drivers advancing to the Championship 4 as a result. 

Logano,  Keselowski and Blaney had nothing for the field all day. Blaney, was in the worst shape as he was 12th in Stage 1 and 13th in Stage 2 while battling a badly handling race car. He swept both stages back in April and had the same No. 12 Ford back here in October with no changes. He’d finish 11th and get bumped out of the playoffs for the third time in the last five years in the Round of 8. That’s a disappointing end to his championship hopes after he entered the postseason with three straight top two finishes and five top fives in the final six races of the regular season. 

Logano also just didn’t have any speed. He led only nine laps but that’s just because he stayed out of pit lane during one sequence when everyone else pit. It didn’t pay off as his No. 22 Ford would come home 10th in the end.

“From the get-go, we were struggling to get it to turn,” Logano said. “We raised the track bar, made it loose everywhere except where I wanted it to turn. Put that back, tried something else. Got closer, but all we’re doing is compromising at that point. At about lap 15 on we were mediocre, but before that…

“Anyway, we were good enough, we didn’t get in. Wasn’t close enough. Didn’t fire off fast enough. Now we’ll go to Phoenix and try to finish as high as we can with this team. We fought hard this season. We just weren’t fast enough. Weren’t fast enough throughout the Playoffs, and today was kind of another example of that. We’ll fire away next week.

“Might not be able to win the championship, but I think overall what we’ve been able to do as far as getting our balance closer, honestly catching our teammates on the 550s was probably one of the biggest challenges for us, to get at least in the ballpark with them. The 750s has been our bread and butter. Just kind of lost a little bit to the cars the last eight or nine weeks.”

Logano, has one win all season as that came on dirt in Bristol back in March. He’s also only had just four top fives over the last 20 races overall. 

Keselowski was in a similar spot. Coming into the weekend, he had just four top fives in the previous 23 starts. He did finish third on Sunday for his fourth in 24 races, but he just didn’t have it all day in being fifth and eighth respectively in the two stages. 

“At the start of the race we were okay,” Keselowski said. “Got really tight in the middle of the race. Car started rolling at the end. Just super free. I was so loose. Got underneath the 9, got loose. Spun him out. All I could do to hold onto the car.

“We got it better, put ourselves in a position. Just wasn’t quite strong enough there at the end. Disappointing. All in all we gave it a great run here. Wish I could have last week at Kansas back, that’s for sure. Felt like I left the eight points we were short there with some mistakes I made.

“All in all, proud of our team. Proud of the efforts that everyone put in. Disappointed for Team Penske to not get through to the final round. We gave it our best. Feel bad for Chase, that he got caught up there. At least he’s still good for next week. Frustrating day.”

Keselowski’s lack of playoff points kept him out. He has eight in 35 races run this season via a bonus point for making the playoffs, five points from his Talladega win and only two stage wins at that. 

Penske put two cars in the final round last year and had a car fighting for the championship in the final race in five of the past seven years. This time, they won’t.



Truex Jr. Lucks Out In Wild Day Sunday at Martinsville

Martin Truex Jr. is stopping by a convenience story to pick up a lottery ticket on his way back home on Sunday night. The veteran driver has no clue how he’s still fighting for a championship next Sunday at Phoenix and hopes to cash in on his new found luck as a result.

If he was a cat, he’d have lived through all nine of his lives in 501 laps of racing at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway on Sunday afternoon with the Joe Gibbs Racing driver enduring late race contract, a possible tire rub, overheating issues as well as a loose wheel but still managed to finish fourth in his No. 19 Toyota to advance to his record tying fifth career Championship 4. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick also each have five but Truex has been in the final round in four of the last five years now with the only exception being a year ago. 

Truex, entered Sunday’s race three points behind his JGR teammate of Kyle Busch for the fourth and final spot to advance to the final round. He did exactly what he had to do to put himself in a position to get by via 15 stage points. Busch, only had seven which had Truex in the transfer spot heading to the final stage. 

He was in the top three for most of the day before having a potential loose wheel late in the race. He was laps away from pitting before Cole Custer spun in Turn 4 on Lap 357 which allowed him to pit with everyone else and not lose any ground in the process. 

Then, in a rough and tumble final 50 laps, Truex had contract with several drivers and caused left front damage. He fell back. Busch was now rising and even found himself in the top five where Truex was struggling to remain in the top 10. He went from the plus side to below the cutline. With heavy damage now, it was looking like his championship hopes would be dashed. 

“Yeah, I was really worried as soon as it first happened because I felt like the contact was very, very minimal,” Truex said. “I felt the tire pulling on the steering wheel, so I knew I had a tire rub. I obviously seen the smoke. I was really worried at that point.

“But ran two or three laps, the guys said it looks a lot better, it looks like it’s going to be fine. At that point your bed is kind of made. You have to stay out there and pray and hope that it doesn’t go flat. From there, we were just fighting, battling.

“Got run into. Got knocked out of the groove once, put in the wall once off of two just after that. Luckily we were able to have two good restarts at the end and get in the right lanes and make up some the spots.

“Definitely was worried, but luckily it held together there.”

Then came all that late race chaos which in turn allowed him to stay in the mix and with Truex climbing back up to finish fourth and Busch coming .472-seconds away from the win, he transfer to the final round and not Busch. 

“Yeah, it’s never an easy situation to be kind of on your last run of the race, be in one minute and out the next,” he said of the ending. “You know there’s not a whole lot you can do other than drive.

“Like I said, fortunately we were able to gather ourselves up there and make a pass. We actually got in a good spot before the last two cautions came. I think we were in by one point or something at that point. Luckily just able to have two good restarts.

“I mean, those situations, that’s all you can do. Thinking about it, worrying about it doesn’t do you any good. You just got to try to go, hit your marks, get the most out of your race car. Luckily we were able to do that.

“The last two restarts were critical, but the last one for sure. The 18 was second. If he would have got to the 48, knocked him out of the way like he did the 11, Kyle’s in or out. Needed to try to stay close to the front there. Luckily we were able to start there on the second row and hang on to that spot, which was critical.

 “I have no idea how we finished fourth (smiling). I’m going to buy a lottery ticket on the way home.”

Truex, now is likely the underdog next weekend in the sense that you get the top two drivers in the speed department all season via Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin as well as the defending series champion in Chase Elliott. That’s okay to him though because the last driver to actually win a race at Phoenix though?

Truex Jr. back in March.



Martinsville Creates Another Frantic Final Race Of The Semifinal Round

2017 saw Denny Hamlin push Chase Elliott out of the way of the Fall playoff race. 2018 Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. have a run in at the end of the playoff race a year later. 2019 was Hamlin vs. Logano on pit road at the end. Last year was Kevin Harvick purposely crashing Kyle Busch on the final lap to hopefully gain an extra point to advance onto the Championship 4. 

With such a tight margin to get into the final spot of the final round for Sunday’s race, we knew this would be another race that would likely cause some hurt feelings. 

Brad Keselowski got into Chase Elliott while racing for third with 46 laps left in regulation. Elliott, was already into the final round via points while Keselowski at that point had to win. 

Then you get Alex Bowman pushing into Hamlin with seven to go for the lead. 

Then on the final lap, you have Keselowski and Kyle Busch. 

That’s Martinsville in a Round of 8 cutoff race. That’s what we’re going to have to expect as long as this race remains in this place on the schedule and after all the fireworks that we’ve seen over the last five years here, why change it up?

I mean, desperation I guess,” Elliott said of the final 50 laps of hard racing and why it didn’t occur in the first 400+ laps prior. “Some people needing to win. Restarts. Guys might find themselves in a little different position than they’ve been in all day. I don’t know.

“I mean, I’d say the biggest thing is just the need to win for some guys I would have to think. I’m probably not an expert either.”

Elliott, said that he didn’t feel like what Keselowski did to him though was necessarily on purpose either and even blamed himself for being in that position anyways. 

“I mean, it’s tough. I was racing him hard on the outside. I wasn’t super surprised that he made a mistake,” he said. “As hard as he hit me, I knew he just didn’t clean me out on purpose. I figure he wheel hopped or something. I haven’t seen it. Really moving on was all that mattered.

“I had made some bad choices on adjustments, kind of got us behind. The real reason that happened was because I made a bad decision on what to do to our car. We started playing defense. When you start playing defense, you typically start crashing a lot of times, especially when guys need to win.

“I blame myself for leading us down the wrong path more than anything. I didn’t think it was on purpose either, so all good.”

Keselowski agreed saying that he definitely didn’t want to get into Elliott but the contact was via him pushing too hard for his championship hopes on the line with a bad handling race car. 

“Got really tight in the middle of the race,” he said. “Car started rolling at the end. Just super free. I was so loose. Got underneath the 9, got loose. Spun him out. All I could do to hold onto the car.

“We got it better, put ourselves in a position. Just wasn’t quite strong enough there at the end. Disappointing. All in all we gave it a great run here. Wish I could have last week at Kansas back, that’s for sure. Felt like I left the eight points we were short there with some mistakes I made.

“All in all, proud of our team. Proud of the efforts that everyone put in. Disappointed for Team Penske to not get through to the final round. We gave it our best. Feel bad for Chase, that he got caught up there. At least he’s still good for next week. Frustrating day.”



Rough Day On Pit Road

Several times we saw speeding penalties on pit road including one for Denny Hamlin, one for Kyle Busch and even two for Kyle Larson. The reason for that? Having to be overly aggressive. In a cut race, you need to push every limit that you can to get by. 

For Larson though, he says his was due to being in a position to be aggressive without anything to lose. 

“Just being too aggressive, being I think locked in,” he said. “You could be a little bit more aggressive. Yeah, I don’t know. Just mistakes on my part.

“When I was on Denny’s bumper, that’s not where I sped either. I sped once leaving my stall and then once coming into my stall. Just was too aggressive in the corners.”

As to why he was so close to Hamlin anyways?

“Because you want to be as close to the guy in front of you as you can to shorten the distance up.”

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