It was a wild day at Martinsville Speedway in the Xfinity 500, the last race before the NASCAR Cup Series finale at Phoenix Raceway.
Kyle Larson came into the day locked into the championship round of the playoffs after winning the last two races of the round of 8. But 7 other drivers were forced to battle at NASCAR’s smallest track for the final 3 positions in the championship round.
Larson and Chase Elliott battled for the lead early, but Elliott won the first two stages of the race and managed to lock himself into the championship four. Which turned out to be lucky for Elliott, who was spun by a hard-charging Brad Keselowski, who was in a must-win situation late in the race.
With just two spots left in the final four, Martin Truex Jr. found himself above the cutoff line late in the race but made things interesting when he went three wide with Brad Keselowski, who was also battling for a spot in the championship.
Truex opted to stay out of the pits despite the damage, which ultimately proved to be the right call as he managed to gain positions and work his way into the championship field.
But the real fireworks came at the front of the field. With Denny Hamlin leading and Alex Bowman, who was knocked out of the playoffs after the Round of 12, trying to take the lead, Bowman bumped Hamlin and spun him into the wall with just six laps to go, setting up an overtime finish with two playoff spots still up for grabs.
Despite the spin, Hamlin remained in the third playoff spot and hung on to finish 24th, good enough to clench the third spot in the championship field.
So on the final restart, playoff drivers Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski all found themselves at the front of the field battling Bowman for the win and the final spot in the championship four. And with all three contenders so close to each other, it meant that Busch and Keselowski were in must-win positions if they wanted to keep their championship hopes alive.
But when the race went back to green, Bowman managed to hold off the playoff drivers and steal the win for himself – knocking Busch and Keselowski out of the top four in playoff points and allowing Truex to sneak into the final spot.
But despite all the chaos, the Championship Four is set. Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. will battle for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship next weekend at Phoenix – and the highest-finishing driver will take home the trophy.
If you thought this race was wild, just wait until there’s a championship on the line.