Martinsville Speedway, Martinsville, VA— October 27, 2019
In last year’s playoff race at Martinsville Speedway, Joey Logano(22) put a bumper to Martin Truex Jr.(19) on the last corner of the final lap. The contact was enough to allow Logano to slip past Truex and take the win. Advancing to the Championship Four.
As a result, Logano went on to win the NASCAR Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Will the same type of drama occur today? Maybe. Logano sits on the playoff bubble, two points ahead of fifth-place Kevin Harvick(4).
Denny Hamlin(11) sits on the pole for today’s First Data 500. Chase Elliott(9) qualified 2nd but will start from the rear of the field due to an engine change after blowing up in practice.
Aric Almirola(10) will move up to the front row to pace the field. Hamlin is 3rd in the standings at +9, Elliott sits below the cut-line 6 points out.
Stages today are 130/130/240 and every lap will test the patience and temperament of drivers as contact is a part of racing at Martinsville.
Hamlin easily led the first 30 laps until the caution flag came out for debris on the race track. Pit stops shuffled the front of the pack as Truex exited with the lead. Followed by Ryan Blaney(12), Daniel Suarez(41), Clint Bowyer(14), and Hamlin.
As Truex maintained the lead, Hamlin moved back up to 2nd and Elliott worked his way from the back of the pack to the top 10. With six laps to go, Truex lapped Kyle Larson(42) to leave just 16 cars on the lead lap.
Stage 1 Results
|19||Martin Truex Jr.||10|
* Ford Mustang Drivers
Harvick and Larson were the only two playoff drivers to not capture bonus points during Stage 1. Larson returned to the lead lap as the lucky dog during the caution period.
Truex exited the pits first and let into the restart for Stage 2. This time it was Clint Bower(14) chasing his rear bumper around the track. Fifty laps into Stage 2, Ty Dillon(13) spun with the help of Daniel Hemric(8) giving the leaders an opportunity to pit for fresh tires.
Jimmie Johnson(48) hit a tire on pit road and also ran into the right rear of Brad Keselowski(2), necessitating a 2nd stop by Johnson to repair the damage. Also during the stop, Elliott had trouble leaving his pits. A damaged rear axle proved to be the issue as the #9 car remained on pit road as the race restarted. Elliott ultimately took his car to the garage as the crew continued to try and repair the problem.
Truex again led with Bowyer in 2nd, Blaney 3rd, William Byron(24) in 4th and Logano moving up to 5th.
Elliott returned to the race 53 laps down in last place. Every point is valuable and if another car has trouble Elliott may make up some ground. Nine laps from the end of the stage, Bowyer cut a tire, it came apart and scattered debris across the track bringing out the caution. Larson stayed on the track as the remainder of the leaders headed for pit road.
Truex got a nose in front of Larson coming to the start-finish line and took the stage win. Larson picked up 9 bonus points by staying out and gaining track position.
Stage 2 Results
|19||Martin Treux Jr.||10|
* Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
Truex continued to add to his laps led total at the start of the Final Stage. Logano moved into 2nd but sits almost three seconds behind the leader. The caution came out again on Lap 345 as Austin Dillon(3) shredded a tire. Everyone came to pit road, with 155 laps it is possible someone may try to stretch gas mileage to the end.
Truex sped off into Turn 1 as the race restarted, Byron moved past Blaney into second, with Logano in 4th. Hamlin and teammate Kyle Busch traded bumper taps as Hamlin pushed his way into the 5th position.
On Lap 361, the first accident of the day occurred as Kyle Busch got tangled with Aric Almirola on the front stretch. Ryan Preece(47), Johnson, and Matt DiBenedetto(95) also picked up some damage in the incident.
Almirola’s and Johnson’s cars were eliminated from the race. Elliott will pick up those two positions if he remains out of trouble over the next 30-40 laps. Out of the care center, Almirola expressed his dissatisfaction with Kyle Busch and promised to make life difficult for him over the remaining races this season.
Cautions Breed Cautions
As cars battled for position on the restart, Alex Bowman(88), Bubba Wallace(43), and Suarez were wrecking under the flag stand to bring out another caution. A lot of cars have damage from on-track incidents, Truex’s car is spotless and still out front.
With 52 laps to go, Bowyer cut down a left rear tire and debris brought out the caution again. Everyone had a chance to pit for fresh tires and plenty of gas to reach the end of the race. It will also ramp up the intensity. Truex easily scampered away from the pack. Byron and Blaney banged for 2nd place, Hamlin drove Logano into the wall fighting for 4th.
Logano’s brush with the wall flattened a tire and he spun. Another yellow flag waved. Shortly after the restart, Hemric and Michael McDowell got together and another caution slowed the field.
The final yellow flag set up a short sprint to the finish. Truex was being chased by Byron. Remembering what happened in last year’s race, Truex never allowed the #24 car to get to his bumper. Taking the win after leading 464 of the 500 laps.
Logano and Hamlin came together for a short conversation about what happened late in the race. It looked civil until Joey gave Denny a little shove at the end and the fight was on. Order was quickly restored, however, the two continued to jaw at each other as the emotions of the day boiled over.
Truex becomes the first driver to qualify for the Championship 4 and clearly looks to be the early favorite. Hamlin improved his position moving 24 points above the cut line. Logano also added to his bubble lead going up by 14.
Harvick lost ground, Blaney moved from eighth to sixth and Elliott was forced into a must-win position if he expects to contend at Homestead.
|1||19||Martin Truex Jr||In / Win|
|Championship Cut Line|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Next week, Texas Motor Speedway hosts the 2nd race of the Round of Eight. Can things get any more insane? Can’t wait to find out.
Results of the First Data 500 from Martinsville Speedway
|1||19||Martin Truex Jr.|
|15||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.|