Chase Elliott Gets a Must Win at Martinsville, Championship 4 Set

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Martinsville Speedway, Martinsville VA — November 1, 2020

It all comes down to this, 500 laps around Martinsville Speedway and we will know the four drivers who will run next week at Phoenix Raceway for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Championship.

Joey Logano is already in, via his win at Kansas. Kevin Harvick is almost there, 41 points above the cut line. Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski would be happy if the day ended the way it starts. They have to hope none of the four below the cut line manage to pull off a win today. That sums up the drama we can expect this afternoon.

Rank Driver Points Status
1 Joey Logano* 4101 In-Win
2 Kevin Harvick* 4181 +42
3 Denny Hamlin 4166 +27
4 Brad Keselowski* 4164 +25
Round 3 Cut Line
5 Alex Bowman 4139 -25
6  Chase Elliott 4139 -25
7 Martin Truex Jr. 4128 -36
8 Kurt Busch 4083 -81

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Today’s Race

Martin Truex Jr.(19) is the defending champion of the race, he has won the last 2 races at “The Paperclip,” he’s going for 3 in a row today and he needs to win to advance to the final in Phoenix. Truex starts on the front row today beside pole sitter Brad Keselowski(2). Stages are 130/130/240 laps.

Brad Keselowski (R) and Martin Truex Jr. (L) lead the field to green. / NASCAR Photo

Stage 1

Keselowski headed off into Turn 1 with the lead, it did not last long. Truex drove underneath him on Lap 4 to take the top spot. Denny Hamlin(11) and Kurt Busch(1) followed him past.

Hamlin’s crew discovered before the race they had left a travel packer on the car’s right rear shock absorber. The small rubber collar restricts the movement of the shock when the car is being transported. They asked NASCAR if they could remove it as the car sat on the starting grid. NASCAR said if they did, they would have to go to the rear of the field. The crew said they would remove it during the competition caution scheduled for around lap 60. It did not seem to be bothering the car’s performance.

Chase Elliott(9), another playoff driver needing a win today, drove forward from his 8th place starting position to begin tapping on the bumper of Truex. After the competition caution, Truex and Elliott restarted on the front row with Joey Logano(22) and Keselowski behind them. Hamlin lost a little time removing the packer from his shock, he restarts 6th.

Joey Logano (22) battles with Chase Elliott (9) at Martinsville. / NASCAR Photo

Elliott passed for the lead on Lap 89, Truex chose not to risk damaging his car when Elliott drove underneath him to grab the spot. Garrett Smithley(77) hit the wall and brought out the caution with 27 laps to go in the Stage, setting up a sprint for Stage points among the playoff contenders.

Elliott, Truex, Hamlin, Keselowski, and Alex Bowman(88) were the playoff drivers in the Top 10 when the race restarted. But, with 16 laps to go Joey Gase (51) spun and brought out the caution again. Logano and Kurt Busch(1) moved forward under the caution as driver’s pitted. Harvick was the only playoff driver out of a point’s position when the race restarted with 10 laps to go.

Hamlin won the battle to the green and white checkered flag with Bowman and Keselowski following him across the line. Harvick was the only playoff driver not to get bonus points, he finished 14th

Stage 1 Results

Position Car Driver Points
1 11 Denny Hamlin (P) 10
2 88 Alex Bowman (P) 9
3 2 Brad Keselowski (P)* 8
4 9 Chase Elliott (P) 7
5 22 Joey Logano (P)* 6
6 19 Martin Truex Jr. (P) 5
7 18 Kyle Busch 4
8 24 William Byron 3
9 1 Kurt Busch (P) 2
10 48 Jimmie Johnson 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Stage 2

The Busch brothers start Stage 2 on the front row with most of the playoff drivers trapped back in the pack. Kurt Busch raced his younger brother side-by-side for the lead until he was able to pull ahead and become the 3rd must-win driver to lead the race today.

Chris Buescher(17) ran into the back of another car during a jam-up in the corner. Buescher broke the radiator and spread fluid all-around the track causing NASCAR to bring out the caution to clean up the racetrack.

Kurt Busch led again on the restart. However, Elliott and Hamlin passed quickly. A win by Hamlin would not cause the same chaos as a win by Busch or Elliott. Harvick cut down a tire after contact with Matt Kenseth(42) and had to pit. He returned to the track two laps down.

Denny Hamlin(11) and Kurt Busch(1) vie for a position. / NASCAR Photo

The caution waved only a few laps later for an incident with Brennan Poole(15) allowing Harvick to gain one lap back. He still remains in 31st and now finds himself in the middle of the playoff points battle, as the four guys below the cut line are all running in the Top 6 positions. Including Elliott as the leader at the 200 lap mark.

With 25 laps to go in the Stage, Hamlin led and Elliott ran 2nd. Ryan Blaney(12) held 3rd, Truex 4th, and Keselowski 5th. Elliott moved to the front and held the lead with 10 to go. Truex, making a late run, took over 2nd spot. But no one could make a run on Elliott who held on for the Stage win.

Harvick again failed to gain Stage points as he remains a lap down.

Stage 2 Results

Position Car Driver Points
1 9 Chase Elliott (P) 10
2 19 Martin Truex Jr. (P) 9
3 11 Denny Hamlin (P) 8
4 12 Ryan Blaney* 7
5 1 Kurt Busch (P) 6
6 18 Kyle Busch 5
7 2 Brad Keselowski (P)* 4
8 22 Joey Logano (P)* 3
9 88 Alex Bowman (P) 2
10 6 Ryan Newman* 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers

Hamlin had some difficulty with the left front tire change. The jack dropped before all the lug nuts were tight. Hamlin’s crew had to bring him back down pit road and jack up the car to make sure all of the lug nuts were torqued properly. He restarted in the 29th position.

The Final Stage

At the front with 220 laps to go, three must-win drivers led the pack. Elliott, Truex, and Kurt Busch.

A caution on Lap 351 for a flat tire on the Timmy Hill(66) car saved Harvick from going two laps down. Still, he was not in a position to get the lucky dog and will restart a lap down in 23rd place.

Elliott almost faced a back-breaking incident on pit road. The jack-man was over the pit wall too early. Fortunately, he realized his mistake, went back and touched up on the wall, and avoided a penalty that would have sent Elliott to the rear of the field for the restart.

Back to green, Team Penske drivers Blaney and Logano paced the pack. Elliott ran 3rd trying to get back to the front. With everyone good on fuel and tires, it could be a race to the finish barring any further cautions.

With 100 laps to go, the third Team Penske driver, Brad Keselowski, was battling Elliott for the 3rd position. James Davison’s(53) car lost power and came to a stop on the track. NASCAR was forced to bring out the caution. Finally, Harvick was in the lucky dog position and got his lap back.

All the leaders came to pit road for service. Logano, Blaney, and Keselowski led the field off with Truex trailing Team Penske. Keselowski was too fast exiting pit road and sent to the rear of the field. Truex, moving up a spot, was able to fire off on the restart and captured the lead.

Brad Keselowski(2), Denny Hamlin(11), Alex Bowman(88), and Kurt Busch(1). / NASCAR Photo

With 60 laps to go, William Byron(24) crashed hard destroying the rear of his car. the caution gave the leaders a chance to pit for fresh tires for the run to the finish.

The Finish

Truex was the first car off pit road. He was followed by Logano, Elliott, Blaney, and Bowman. Corie LaJoie(32) stayed on the track and will lead the pack back to green with 51 laps to go.

After the shuffle on the restart, Truex led, Elliott had moved into 2nd, Logano, Bowman, and Kyle Busch(19) made up the Top 5. Truex complained of a vibration, the crew feared they may have left a lug nut loose. Elliott passed as Truex seemed to struggle. He eventually was forced to come to pit road to replace the right-side tires, essentially removing Truex from a shot at the Championship.

With Elliott in the lead of the race and 20 laps to, Hamlin, Keselowski, and Harvick are all within 2 points of each other. With 10 laps to go, it was down to a single point.

Elliott captured the win and qualified for the playoff final. Keselowski finished 4th and he points himself in. It came down to the two best drivers all season long and only one of them is going to advance. Harvick was a point behind Hamlin as he came off Turn 4 on the final lap beside Kyle Busch. If they tied Harvick would advance based on the tiebreaker.

Harvick hit Busch in the door and got him loose. As Busch spun, Harvick also lost control. Who would cross the finish line 1st? Busch got his car straightened out and held the position. Harvick backed into the inner wall, stalled, and finished last on the lead lap in 17th. Hamlin advanced by the slimmest of margins.

It was a bitter pill for Harvick to swallow. The dominant car all year long, a history of wins at Phoenix, and he won’t even make the Championship 4. A green flag pitstop to change a flat tire ended up being the deciding factor in Harvick’s inability to fight back.

Results of The Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway

Position Car Driver Behind Laps
1 9 Chase Elliott (P) 500
2 12 Ryan Blaney 6.577 500
3 22 Joey Logano (P) 8.034 500
4 2 Brad Keselowski (P) 8.456 500
5 1 Kurt Busch (P) 9.985 500
6 88 Alex Bowman (P) 10.046 500
7 10 Aric Almirola 10.102 500
8 14 Clint Bowyer 12.859 500
9 18 Kyle Busch 15.710 500
10 21 Matt DiBenedetto 16.641 500
11 11 Denny Hamlin (P) 17.712 500
12 20 Erik Jones 18.328 500
13 41 Cole Custer 19.064 500
14 42 Matt Kenseth 19.104 500
15 95 Christopher Bell 20.632 500
16 13 Ty Dillon 21.856 500
17 4 Kevin Harvick (P) 30.888 500
18 6 Ryan Newman -1 499
19 37 Ryan Preece -1 499
20 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -1 499
21 43 Bubba Wallace -1 499
22 19 Martin Truex Jr. (P) -1 499
23 3 Austin Dillon -2 498
24 8 Tyler Reddick -2 498
25 32 Corey LaJoie -2 498
26 38 John Hunter Nemechek -2 498
27 96 Daniel Suarez -3 497
28 34 Michael McDowell -3 497
29 66 Timmy Hill -5 495
30 48 Jimmie Johnson -5 495
31 27 JJ Yeley -6 494
32 7 Josh Bilicki -10 490
33 0 Quin Houff -11 489
34 51 Joey Gase -53 447
35 24 William Byron -61 439
36 53 James Davison -78 422
37 15 Brennan Poole -316 184
38 17 Chris Buescher -354 146
39 77 Garrett Smithley -400 100