On a Sunday evening at Martinsville, tempers flared among playoff contenders while Kyle Busch became the first to punch his ticket into the Championship 4 after the First Data 500.
Kyle Busch had three tracks he wanted to win the most this season, among the three was Martinsville and after Sunday’s First Data 500 which witness its first official finish under the lights, he checked one off his list. Busch cleared teammate Denny Hamlin and held off Martin Truex, Jr. for his fifth win of the season, advancing into the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 19.
Despite leading the most laps at 184 of 505 laps, Busch said he didn’t have the best car and credited his team for getting him a step closer towards his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship in three years.
“It’s awesome to get to victory lane here at Martinsville. I wanted to win Charlotte, Martinsville and Homestead and that’ll make us this year’s champion. We got one of the three and we’ll be working on more,” Busch said. “Our guys did an awesome job preparing this car. We weren’t the best all day, but we put ourselves in the right spots at the end and there was chaos ensuing and one of it was our fault. We just came out on the right end of the stick.”
“We can go out there and race for wins and try to get more of course and just let everybody have to worry and not give them a chance to breathe and get their heads on their shoulders going into that weekend at Homestead,” Busch added.
Busch trails Truex by 17 points in the points standings. Clint Bowyer was the highest non-playoff driver in third. Followed by stage one and two winner Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Trevor Bayne, Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Matt Kenseth and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
Once again, Chase Elliott’s bid of capturing his first Cup win fell short after hometown hero Denny Hamlin turned him around in turn three on lap 498, bringing out the 11th and final caution of the evening.
Elliott limped his car for an agonizing 27th place finish, the worst among the Round of 8 drivers.
After the race, both drivers argued over the incident without any physical altercations fans expected since elimination rounds were implemented in 2014.
Elliott said another driver pushed Hamlin which resulted the accident, but after seeing the replay, Elliott added it was an intentional wreck for the race lead.
“My momma always said if you don’t have anything nice not to say anything at all. So, it’s not even worth my time. We’ll just go on to Texas,” Elliott said, “It’s just not necessary. We had a great restart and there was nobody pushing him into Turn 3. So, I wanted to see the replay. That’s what I thought happened and that’s what happened. And it’s definitely 100% unnecessary and uncalled for.”
Hamlin’s argument was every driver was running aggressive at the end and said he didn’t took out Elliott on purpose.
“I got in the back of him and he spun out,” Hamlin said. “Trying to get a race win, but everybody wrecked everybody there at the end. It was complete bullshit chaos, I got in the back of him and he spun out. Somebody got in the back of me and I wrecked too. It was a mess at the end. Everybody was doing the exact same thing. I hate it for his team. I understand they’ve had a win for a long time coming, but this is a ticket to Homestead.”
“I’m not sitting here saying I wrecked him on purpose,” Hamlin added. “I tried to move him out of the way and he spun out. He didn’t make the corner because I had his back end jacked up, that’s for sure. I got in there too hot and got into the back of him.”
Hamlin’s night of confrontations continued on pit road as an angry fan attempted to fight him, shouting he was a “dirty veteran,” but Hamlin’s crew and the sheriff officers separated the two and cooler heads prevailed.
The incident puts Elliott in a hole entering Texas, trailing fourth-place Harvick by 26 points for the final spot in the Championship 4 with two Round of 8 races remaining.
Playoff fever will carry onto Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas Nov. 4.
The 1.5-mile oval is synonymous for playoff post-race drama after the 2014 brawl between Keselowski and Elliott’s predecessor, Jeff Gordon. The winner that evening was Jimmie Johnson who has won at the Lone Star State 4 out of the last 6 races including the spring race April 9.