Mangled cars were strewn across the track, drivers were shouting at each other from inches apart, and there was Kyle Busch, squeezing through all the chaos and across the finish line.
The easy takeaway to be gleaned from the insanity at Martinsville is that Busch has punched his ticket to Homestead, where he’ll race for a NASCAR Cup Series championship for the third consecutive year. But the rest of it – Denny Hamlin wrecking Chase Elliott with four laps to go; Elliott never having won a race before; the entire field smashing into each other in a humongous last-lap collision – will take some time to sift through.
Elliott was in the hunt to win for most of the second half of the race, even in spite of a tire rub and numerous cautions and the rest of the competition biting at his spoiler. Even with four laps to go, he had the clear path to victory ... until Hamlin sent him on a clear path into the wall in Turn 3.
And as if that wasn’t enough drama, there was the last lap. Hamlin was in the thick of the crowd, and for whatever reason, him slipping or the close proximity or something else altogether, he helped start a massive wreck right as drivers were crossing the finish line. Seemingly every car got caught, too, as sparks flew and smoke poured up and out of the tiny track.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
And then, with all that, Busch cruised to the win, unaffected, and into the championship race at Homestead.
Stage 1: Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano battled near the front of the pack for most of the first stage, but Keselowski (who looked like the fastest car to that point) pulled away late to win the stage. Every playoff driver finished in the Top 10 and earned playoff points except for Kevin Harvick.
Stage 2: Kyle Busch led for almost the entire stage, but with two laps to go, Keselowski managed to pass him and steal his second stage win of the day and eighth of the season.
Stage 3: Elliott was in the lead for most of the stage, but with four laps to go, Denny Hamlin pushed him from behind and sent him flying into the wall. Then Hamlin was part of another big one crossing the finish line, and Busch barely edged Martin Truex Jr. for the win.
Three who mattered
Kyle Busch: Busch almost was eliminated in the last round of the playoffs, but he rebounded well and clinched his spot in Homestead with the win.
Brad Keselowski: He swept the stages, which could come back to help him in a huge way if he fails to win one of the next two races. Add in that he came in fourth, and Keselowski did a lot to help his chances of advancing to the championship race.
Chase Elliott: Elliott still hasn’t won his first Cup Series race, but Denny Hamlin bumped him with four laps to go and kept him from doing so again. Elliott has finished second six times in his career so far.
▪ Impressive showing from Jimmie Johnson, especially considering he spun during qualifying and consequently had to start from the back. Johnson worked his way up to fourth by the end of the first stage,and he finished the race 12th.
▪ You know it’s the most crucial point in the postseason when six of the remaining eight playoff drivers run in the Top 10. The lone exceptions were Johnson and Elliott, whose respective 12th and 27th-place finishes dropped them down the leaderboard.
▪ Not a good two weeks for Kyle Larson. Last week his engine blew up and shockingly eliminated him from the playoffs, and this week he crashed out with about 200 laps to go. Also ironic that in the first-ever First Data 500, the man with First Data on his hood didn’t finish.
They said it
“He’s not even worth my time.” – Chase Elliott on Denny Hamlin, who wrecked him and cost him his first-ever Cup Series win.
AAA Texas 500
Where: Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, Texas
When: Sunday, Nov. 5 at 2 p.m.