MARTINSVILLE, VA — NASCAR has hit a home run with this playoff format and it’s scheduling. Martinsville being the Round of 8 elimination race isn’t a fluke. This is by design and just look at what we’ve witnessed here since 2017. You have Chase Elliott vs. Denny Hamlin. You have Joey Logano vs. Martin Truex Jr. a year later. You get Hamlin vs. Logano a year after that. 2020 saw Chase Elliott score a walk off win and keeping regular season champion Kevin Harvick out. Last year saw Alex Bowman vs. Hamlin.
A day after Ty Gibbs purposely wrecked his teammate to win a race he didn’t have to win but his teammate did, a race that also saw Justin Allgaier vs. AJ Allmendinger vying for the 4th and final Championship 4 spot at the same time Brandon Jones was battling Gibbs for the win. If Jones would win, he’d advance and it didn’t matter what Allmendinger or Allgaier did. Allmendinger had fresh tires from a late race pit stop that took him from 16th to Allgaier’s bumper. The two exchanged blows on track. Not as bad though as what Gibbs did to Jones.
24 hours later, we saw Chase Briscoe have a contending car before a pit road miscue only to see him in the lead on a call to not pit on Lap 469. William Byron started 25th and was a lap down at the end of both stages. He took two tires on that Lap 469 stop and would restart 5th.
Denny Hamlin meanwhile beat Chase Elliott in both stages as the duo scored 20 and 18 stage points respectively. Ross Chastain was 9th in each stage with 4 points. Elliott and Hamlin leapfrogged Chastain putting them 2nd and 3rd in points and Chastain on the cutline.
Then Hamlin had his fair share of pit road miscues losing him 10 positions over his final three stops which handed the lead over to Christopher Bell who entered Sunday’s Xfinity 500 facing a must-win. Then came that Lap 466 caution to which Bell had the difficult decision to pit from the lead or not.
He did. 15 of the 17 cars on the lead lap followed him down. Briscoe who was 9th at the time of the caution wasn’t one of the 15.
He had the lead and like Bell, had to win to advance.
Bell eventually caught him but while he was chasing him down, you saw a heavyweight battle between Hamlin and Ross Chastain for the final playoff spot on points. Hamlin caught Chastain, had a fight for position like Allgaier and Allmendinger on Saturday, to eventually see Hamlin pass.
Chastain was in defense mode to not lose any more spots. Hamlin was aggressive on the offensive side gaining. On the final lap, Hamlin was 5th. Chastain in 10th. Bell in the lead.
“Our leadership at NASCAR and our partners with our TV broadcast groups, they know what they’re doing when they build these schedules,” Chastain boasted. “When they pick these dates, these cutoff races, different rounds, it’s on purpose. It lives up to the hype every time.
“You look at the spring race, single file, couldn’t pass. Combination of the car being new, the tire, the weather. This tire Goodyear brought moved around a lot, fell off a lot more from my car. I did not have the grip. I was hanging on for 500 laps today. But you combine that with the track and what we’re up against to make it to the championship and have a chance.
“This track is here on the schedule for a reason and it lived up again.”
Boy did it ever. On a day to where passing was limited, we saw the ultimate pass when needed. Chastain passed 5 cars while riding the Turns 3 and 4 wall kamikaze style and did enough to advance.
Bell went from 20th to victory lane. Hamlin went from 11th to a stage sweep.