Denny Hamlin provided the perfect capstone to a day of banged-up stock cars, hurt feelings and crushed dreams.
Alex Bowman took the checkered flag in Sunday’s Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway after sliding up into Hamlin’s race-leading Toyota on Lap 494 of 501 and knocking Hamlin’s car up the track and into the outside wall.
As Bowman tried to start a burnout to celebrate his fourth NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season and his first at the .526-mile short track, Hamlin drove to the frontstretch and expressed his displeasure by twice blocking the progress of Bowman’s No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
“I just got loose in,” Bowman said of the accident that gave him the lead. “I got in too deep (into Turn 3), knocked him out of the way and literally let him have the lead back. For anybody that wants to think I was trying to crash him, obviously that wasn’t the case, considering I literally gave up the lead at Martinsville to give it back to him.
“He’s been on the other side of that. He’s crashed guys here for wins. I hate doing it. Obviously, I don’t want to crash somebody. I just got in, got underneath him, spun him out… Regardless, we get a free grandfather clock (trophy), which is pretty special.”
By the time Bowman took the checkered flag, his teammate, defending Cup champion Chase Elliott already had clinched a spot in next Sunday’s Championship 4 race at Phoenix by sweeping the first two stages of the event.
Elliott joins another teammate, two-time Round of 8 winner Kyle Larson, Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. in the quartet that will vie for the series title at the one-mile track in the Sonoran Desert.
With a damaged car that had slapped the outside wall at the exit of Turn 2 on Lap 471, Truex eked out his berth in the championship race by three points over Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch, who finished second to Truex’s fourth but lost his slim pre-race advantage in the first two stages.
Eliminated from the Playoff with Busch were the Team Penske Fords of Brad Keselowski (third Sunday and eight points below the cutoff), Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano.
Hamlin, who started from the rear after his car twice failed pre-race inspection, had enough of a margin entering the race that his 24th-place finishing position didn’t cost him a chance at the championship. But that was little consolation for the lost opportunity to add to his collection of five grandfather clocks.
“He’s just a hack,” Hamlin said of the race winner. “Just an absolute hack. He gets his ass kicked by his teammates every week. He’s (expletive) terrible. He’s just terrible. He sees one opportunity, he takes it.
“Obviously, he’s got the fast car of the week and he runs 10th. He didn’t want to race us there. We had a good, clean race. I moved up as high as I could on the racetrack to give him all the room I could—he still can’t drive.”
Lane choice helped Truex gain the final four after Aric Almirola got loose and forced him up the track on Lap 471, costing Truex positions and the eventual scrape with the wall. Truex gained spots on the subsequent restart on Lap 478 and chose the outside lane—directly behind Busch—for the final restart on Lap 500.
“I have no idea how we finished fourth,” Truex said of the contact with the wall. “I’m going to buy a lottery ticket on the way home.”
Even though Busch struggled with the handling of his No. 18 Toyota throughout the afternoon at Martinsville, he blamed his 28th-place finish last weekend at Kansas for his failure to advance to the Championship 4 Round.
“We just missed last week,” said the two-time series champion—and the only active driver with more than one title. “That’s where we lost all the ground. Could have come in here with 15 more points, we would have been fine on the cut. Just wasn’t it. Wasn’t meant to be. Obviously, it was Truex’s day. We had a Hail Mary opportunity there at the end. Just didn’t materialize.
“All in all, just proud of the effort for sure. We slung everything and anything at this thing today, couldn’t really make it come alive. Great effort. That was there, for sure. We’ve just got to get better, everybody included, the whole team, in order to be able to go race with the best and race for a championship. We’re not going to do that this year.”
Neither will Bowman, who was eliminated from the Playoffs in the Round of 12. But the victory at NASCAR’s most venerable track, which will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year, was ample compensation.
Not to mention the free clock.
The purse for the Xfinity 500 was $7,778,099.
–NASCAR Wire Service
2022 NASCAR Season
As part of its 75th Anniversary season, Martinsville will host its first-ever consecutive three race weekend of night races with all three premier series on April 7-9, 2022, featuring the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on Thursday, April 7, 2022, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will compete in the NASCAR Xfinity Series on Friday, April 8, 2022 and the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 Cup Series race on Saturday, April 9, 2022.
In the fall, Martinsville will host the penultimate races of the Xfinity Series and Cup Series for the fourth consecutive season on Oct. 29-30, 2022, featuring the Xfinity Series Playoffs on Saturday, Oct. 29 and the Xfinity 500 Cup Series Playoff race on Sunday, Oct. 30.
2022 NASCAR tickets are available for purchase today via phone at 877-RACE-TIX or online at martinsvillespeedway.com.
About Martinsville Speedway
Founded by H. Clay Earles in 1947, Martinsville Speedway is the only NASCAR track to host NASCAR Cup Series races every year since its inception in 1949. At .526 miles in length, the track annually hosts two NASCAR race weekends featuring the NASCAR Cup Series, along with NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series races in the fall. Martinsville Speedway also annually hosts the ValleyStar Credit Union 300, the nation’s biggest, richest and most prestigious NASCAR Late Model Stock Car race. For more information about Martinsville Speedway, visit martinsvillespeedway.com.
The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is the sanctioning body for the No. 1 form of motorsports in the United States and owner of 16 of the nation’s major motorsports entertainment facilities. NASCAR consists of three national series (NASCAR Cup Series™, NASCAR Xfinity Series™, and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series™), four regional series (ARCA Menards Series, ARCA Menards Series East & West and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour), one local grassroots series (NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series) and three international series (NASCAR Pinty’s Series, NASCAR Peak Mexico Series, NASCAR Whelen Euro Series). The International Motor Sports Association™ (IMSA®) governs the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship™, the premier U.S. sports car series. NASCAR also owns Motor Racing Network, Racing Electronics, and ONE DAYTONA. Based in Daytona Beach, Florida, with offices in eight cities across North America, NASCAR sanctions more than 1,200 races in more than 30 U.S. states, Canada, Mexico and Europe. For more information visit www.NASCAR.com and www.IMSA.com, and follow NASCAR on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat (‘NASCAR’).