NASCAR Championship Four Determined at Martinsville in Spectacular Fashion

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Martinsville Speedway, Martinsville, VA — October 30, 2022

It all comes down to 500 laps at Martinsville Speedway to determine the final three qualifiers for the Championship Four next week at Phoenix. The final elimination race of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs will knock four drivers out of contention. Joey Logano is already in. Who joins him will be determined today.

NASCAR Cup Series Driver Playoff Outlook Following Homestead-Miami Speedway
Rank Driver Points Starts Race Wins Stage Wins Playoff Pts +/- Cutoff
1 Joey Logano 4,106 34 3 6 26 In On Wins
2 Ross Chastain 4,101 34 2 6 21 19
3 Chase Elliott 4,093 34 5 6 46 11
4 William Byron 4,087 34 2 4 15 5
5 Denny Hamlin 4,082 34 2 3 13 -5
6 Ryan Blaney 4,069 34 0 8 15 -18
7 Christopher Bell 4,054 34 2 4 18 -33
8 Chase Briscoe 4,043 34 1 4 9 -44

 

Ross Chastain, Chase Elliott, and William Byron hold the advantage of starting the race above the cut line. A win by any of the seven remaining drivers gives them an automatic pass. At least two drivers will qualify based on points. It should be exciting.

Take a look at how the Xfinity Series race finished yesterday at the track, it took three attempts in overtime to determine a winner.

Today’s Race

Running 500 laps at Martinsville is a difficult test for the driver and his equipment. The Stages are 130/130/240 laps making up the 263-mile distance around NASCAR’s shortest and tightest race track. The bump-and-run move could well have been invented at Martinsville.

Kyle Larson starts on the pole today, and his teammate Chase Elliott lines up beside him in the front row. Passing is difficult, track position will be one of the keys to success today. No mistakes on pit road and a solid pit strategy are essential.

Stage One

Kyle Larson(5) led the pack of cars into turn one, with Chase Elliott(9) right behind in the second position. The field quickly fanned out into single-file racing as drivers worked on getting a feel of the half-mile circuit.

Larson began lapping back markers just 24 laps into the First Stage. The top four, Larson, Elliott, Bryan Blaney(12), and Chase Briscoe(14), all bunched up as they worked slower traffic all around the race track.

William Byron(24) posted a disappointing qualifying lap and started 25th. With 50 laps on the board, Byron had only moved up one position. Nine cars, the length of a straightaway, were all that separated Byron from the leader. As Larson continued to eat up the margin that would put the lowest running playoff driver a lap down.

On lap 68, Elliott put a fender under Larson out of turn two and pulled beside the leader, taking the top spot out of turn four. Byron got the word that the leader was closing and, by lap 100, had picked off a few positions to run 20th. But only three cars separated Elliott from his other Hendrix teammate Byron.

As laps ran down in the Stage, Denny Hamlin(11) was the fastest car on the track. He caught Elliott with 15 laps to go and made the pass. Hamlin ran down Byron and passed him with a lap to go in the Stage.

Denny Hamlin / Lasco Press Photo

Byron will get his lap back as the “lucky dog,” the first car a lap down behind the leader.

Stage One Results

POS CAR DRIVER POINTS
1 11 Denny Hamlin (P) 10
2 9 Chase Elliott (P) 9
3 41 Cole Custer* 8
4 5 Kyle Larson 7
5 14 Chase Briscoe* (P) 6
6 6 Brad Keselowski* 5
7 20 Christopher Bell (P) 4
8 12 Ryan Blaney* (P) 3
9 1 Ross Chastain (P) 2
10 99 Daniel Suarez 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers   (P) Playoff Drivers

Only 18 cars remained on the lead lap at the end of Stage One. Most surprisingly, Kyle Busch(18) runs last on the field in 36th place, complaining of an ill-handling race car.

Briscoe’s crew suffered a mishap during the pit stop. The gas man was unable to disconnect the fuel can, and Briscoe dragged it out of his pit stall before it fell off. The penalty? Restarting at the end of the longest line.

Stage Two

Hamlin was the first car off pit road, enabling him to retain the lead. Elliott, Larson, Cole Custer(41), and Christopher Bell(20) made up the top five.

Briscoe worked his way through lapped traffic and caught Byron at the tail end of the lead lap cars. Both drivers held less than a straightaway gap on the leader Hamlin.

Tyler Reddick(8) pull his car into the garage area after 188 laps complaining of feeling ill. He was helped from the car and transported to the infield care center to be examined.

Two hundred laps in, Hamlin held almost a three-second lead on Elliott. He has both Briscoe and Byron in his sites. Just three car lengths separate Hamlin from the tail of the lead lap cars.

On lap 215, Hamlin put Briscoe a lap down. Three laps later, Hamlin passed Byron dealing a serious blow to both drivers’ playoff hopes.

Hamlin led every lap in Stage Two and picked up 20 Stage points by sweeping both of the first two segments of the race.

Stage Two Results

POS CAR DRIVER POINTS
1 11 Denny Hamlin (P) 10
2 9 Chase Elliott (P) 9
3 5 Kyle Larson 8
4 41 Cole Custer* 7
5 20 Christopher Bell (P) 6
6 12 Ryan Blaney* (P) 5
7 6 Brad Keselowski* 4
8 22 Joey Logano* (P) 3
9 1 Ross Chastain (P) 2
10 99 Daniel Suarez 1

*Ford Mustang Drivers   (P) Playoff Drivers

The Final Stage

Drivers and crews will likely face something in the final 240 laps of the race that has not occurred in the first two stages. Green Flag pit stops could have a dramatic influence on who makes it to victory land as well as who qualifies for the Championship Four.

Fourteen cars remain on the lead lap when the race restarts after the Stage ending break. Ross Chastain overdrove into turn three. He collided with Brad Keselowski(6) and brought out the first caution for cause of the race. Both cars came to pit road for fresh tires and to check for damage. Joey Logano also came to the pits with a rubber fire in the left front wheel well of his car.

The caution provided Byron with the lucky dog, and he returned to the lead lap. Line em up and turn them loose again. As he has since gaining the lead, Hamlin gets a good jump on the drop of the green flag and begins to put distance between himself and the remainder of the field.

Elliott, Bell, Custer, and Blaney follow Larson at the front. At this point, Blaney is going to need a win to make it to the Championship round after Hamlin has pulled away on points.

On lap 319, Austin Dillon had a brake problem and crashed hard into the turn-four wall. The yellow flag brought the lead lap cars to the pits for service. Briscoe returned to the lead lap as the first driver a lap down.

After Hamlin ran 203 laps at the front of the field, Christopher Bell exits the pits as the new leader. Blaney, Elliott, Hamlin, and Larson followed. If Bell or Blaney grab the win, it will throw the playoff configuration into chaos.

Hamlin’s 20 Stage points are 16 better than Chastain’s. That is enough to put Hamlin in a position to advance on points if there is a surprise winner of the race. Based on where the two drivers stand with 100 laps to go. To close that gap. Chastain will have to pick up six spots on the #11 car to earn the pass into the Championship Four.

JJ Yeley(15) spun in turn three with 108 laps to go, bringing out the caution. This will allow the leaders to pit for fuel that will ensure enough gas to finish the race. The battle will be about who can get off the pit road with the lead.

Bell and Blaney make it out first. Elliott, Larson, and Bubba Wallace(45) follow. Hamlin exits in sixth and Chastain in 11th, Two points separate the two for the final playoff position if Bell or Blaney grab the win.

The Finish

Landon Cassill(77) wrecked in turn four and brought out the caution with 34 laps to go. Tires or track position is the question for the leaders. The front runners all pitted while Briscoe and Custer stayed out.

For several laps after the restart, it appeared the choice to stay out was the right one. Briscoe built a slight lead over the remainder of the field. However, as the laps wound down, Bell used his fresh tires to cut into the deficit.

Christopher Bell / Lasco Press Photo

The drama doubled as the battle between Hamlin and Chastain was down to a single point.

Bell made the pass to the lead, and for the second elimination race in a row, he delivered in a must-win situation.

In a move that will forever be replayed whenever NASCAR is mentioned, the battle for the final playoff spot came down to the last corner of the race, with Hamlin about to clinch the position. Ross Chastain needed just two points to jump ahead of the nemesis that battled him all year long.

Chastain entered turn three and never let off the gas. Laying his car against the outside wall and keeping the accelerator on the floor, he scrapped the paint off the right side of his car and rocketed past several drivers and a stunned crowd in the grandstands to pick up five positions and the final playoff spot.

As the replay of the move was rerun on television monitors, it appeared that Chastain’s car was in hyperdrive. When asked about it, Chastain responded. “I have done it several times on the NASCAR video game, but was not sure how it would work live. I just did what I had to do.”

Denny Hamlin was stunned. He had just been eliminated from the playoffs with the most spectacular move ever seen on a race track. Chastain’s final lap was the fastest of the race at 18.845 seconds and 100.483 mph. It beat the pole-winning speed of 96.078 and set a new track record for the Cup Series cars.

The Championship Four

With Joey Logano already in and Christopher Bell winning his way into the final. Chase Elliott and Ross Chastain advanced by way of points.

Results of the Xfinity 500 from Martinsville Speedway

POS CAR DRIVER BEHIND LAPS
1 20 Christopher Bell (P) 500
2 5 Kyle Larson (P) 0.869 500
3 12 Ryan Blaney (P) 2.228 500
4 6 Brad Keselowski 2.805 500
5 1 Ross Chastain (P) 2.919 500
6 11 Denny Hamlin (P) 2.992 500
7 22 Joey Logano (P) 3.341 500
8 24 William Byron (P) 3.395 500
9 45 Bubba Wallace 3.741 500
10 14 Chase Briscoe (P) 4.862 500
11 9 Chase Elliott (P) 5.283 500
12 21 Harrison Burton 5.650 500
13 99 Daniel Suarez 6.711 500
14 38 Todd Gilliland 6.991 500
15 41 Cole Custer 7.037 500
16 10 Aric Almirola 7.698 500
17 4 Kevin Harvick 8.288 500
18 34 Michael McDowell 10.300 500
19 43 Erik Jones -2 498
20 23 Ty Gibbs -2 498
21 19 Martin Truex Jr. -2 498
22 7 Corey LaJoie -2 498
23 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -2 498
24 16 AJ Allmendinger -2 498
25 17 Chris Buescher -3 497
26 48 Noah Gragson -3 497
27 2 Austin Cindric -3 497
28 31 Justin Haley -3 497
29 51 Cody Ware -5 495
30 18 Kyle Busch -6 494
31 15 JJ Yeley -12 488
32 42 Ty Dillon -34 466
33 77 Landon Cassill -40 460
34 3 Austin Dillon -184 316
35 78 BJ McLeod -275 225
36 8 Tyler Reddick -312 188