Kyle Busch took advantage of a finish at Martinsville Speedway that featured cheers from the crowd, tempers on the track and a checkered flag under the lights to punch his ticket to the Championship 4.
Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick navigated a last-lap incident involving over a dozen cars to follow Busch home and round out the top-five finishers.
Busch’s fellow playoff drivers Keselowski, Chase Elliott, and Denny Hamlin were involved in a number of incidents in the final laps of Sunday’s First Data 500 as the 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion earned his second career win at NASCAR’s oldest track. Busch earns an automatic berth as a championship contender at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the third straight year with the victory.
“It’s just a great win,” Busch said. “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 champions, so we’ve got one more. We weren’t the best all day, but we put ourselves in the right spots there at the end and there was kind of chaos ensuing and none of it was our fault, we just came out on the right end of the stick.”
Overtime took center stage after Hamlin made contact in turn 4 with Elliott, who was just laps away from scoring his first career win. The two drivers exchanged words on the backstretch after the race, with both drivers battling for the automatic Championship 4 berth that was eventually picked up by Busch. Now, the remaining seven playoff drivers will either have to win or earn their way into the Top-4 on points in order to keep their title hopes alive.
Elliott led 123 laps of the First Data 500 before the crash, and eventually finished 27th.
“[Hamlin] came over and talked to me on the backstretch and he said somebody was pushing him, but it wasn’t two lengths between him and the next guy,” Elliott said on pit road after the race. “So, my Momma always said if you don’t have anything nice, not to say anything at all. So, not even worth my time. We’ll just go on to Texas.”
Busch’s win was his fifth of the season and eighth Top-10 finish in 25 starts at Martinsville Speedway. He led five times for 184 laps on the day, the most of any driver.
Keselowski won both Stage One and Stage Two before fading to his fourth place finish.
Caution slowed the field 11 times for 74 laps in the three-hour, 32-minute race.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to Martinsville Speedway on Sunday March 25, 2018 for the STP 500.