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.
|Round 3 Cut Line|
|7||Martin Truex Jr.||4128||-36|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
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.
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.
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
|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|
|9||1||Kurt Busch (P)||2|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
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.
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
|1||9||Chase Elliott (P)||10|
|2||19||Martin Truex Jr. (P)||9|
|3||11||Denny Hamlin (P)||8|
|5||1||Kurt Busch (P)||6|
|7||2||Brad Keselowski (P)*||4|
|8||22||Joey Logano (P)*||3|
|9||88||Alex Bowman (P)||2|
*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.
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.
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
|1||9||Chase Elliott (P)||—||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|
|11||11||Denny Hamlin (P)||17.712||500|
|17||4||Kevin Harvick (P)||30.888||500|
|20||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-1||499|
|22||19||Martin Truex Jr. (P)||-1||499|
|26||38||John Hunter Nemechek||-2||498|