Martinsville Speedway is known for bent fenders and high emotions; Sunday Martinsville was on steroids. Kyle Busch won, but even that wasn’t a certainty until he crossed the start-finish line and took the checkered flag.
Busch beat Martin Truex Jr. on a green white checkered flag finish by .141 seconds, leaving a trail of twisted, crashed racecars in their wake under the newly installed lights at NASCAR’s shortest track.
“Awesome to get to victory lane here at Martinsville,” Busch said. “You know I wanted to win Charlotte, Martinsville and Homestead and that’ll make us this year’s champions, so we’ve got one more. Just wanted to say our guys did an awesome job preparing this car. 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.”
In the closing laps it looked as though Chase Elliott would be a first-time winner. But on a restart with four laps to go, Elliott was moved out of the lead by Denny Hamlin via the bumper of his Toyota. Hamlin, who overcame a speeding penalty, took the lead when Elliott was spun into the wall. Elliott, who led the second most laps on the day 123, would finish 27th.
That caution set up a green-white-checkered flag finish.
On the restart, Hamlin chose the inside line and had the lead by turn 3; Busch was second, Truex third.
Hamlin and Busch were side by side taking the white flag. Entering turn 1 Busch used his bumper to move Hamlin up the track; Truex took advantage and took second trying to pass Busch as the two came to the line; Busch held him off and won by .141 of a second.
“I wanted to get a better restart, pinch Denny (Hamlin) down a little bit,” Busch said. “But it actually kind of worked out better for me that he got ahead a little bit, gave me a gap, I got down and he got into turn three and just pushed up the race track and I knew I had to plug that hole right away cause I was just gonna get beat on from behind, so I got up in there and rooted him out of the way a little bit and we dragged raced down the front straightaway and deep into one, I just wheel-hopped, chattered the rear tires and it was sideways getting in there trying to calm it down with the brakes and everything else. Was able to get through there luckily somehow. I don’t know how and beat (Martin) Truex (Jr.) off of turn four back to the start/finish line.”
Behind them a huge crash erupted blocking the track at the finish of the race.
After the race was over Elliott used his damaged Chevy to push Hamlin’s Toyota into the wall. The two then exited their racecars and had a heated exchange.
“I got punted from behind and wrecked in Turn 3 leading the race,” Elliott said. “I don’t know what his problem was. It was unnecessary I hadn’t raced him dirty all-day long. There was no reason for that and he comes over and talks to me a second ago and tells me he had somebody pushing him into Turn 3. I thought that was funny because there was nobody within two car lengths of him into Turn 3 behind myself. I don’t know what the deal was, but it is so disappointing. We had the best car I’ve ever had here at Martinsville. And had an opportunity to go straight to Homestead and because of him we don’t.”
Hamlin, a native of Virginia, was booed loudly by the Virginia crowd as he was interviewed over the track PA system; Elliott was cheered like a rock star when he was interviewed on the same PA moments later.
“I got into the back of him (Chase Elliott) and he spun out,” Hamlin said. “Trying to get a race win, everyone wrecked everybody there at the end. It was complete bullshit chaos. I got in the back of him and he spun out. Somebody got into the back of me and I wrecked too. It was just a mess at the end. I mean, you know everybody is doing the exact same thing. I hate it for his team, I understand they had a win for a long time coming, but this is a ticket to Homestead. Not sure you know – I’m not sitting here saying I wrecked him on purpose and I tried to move him out of the way and spun out.”
At the end of it all, Kyle Busch, who led a race high 184 laps Sunday, has punched his ticket and will be one of four drivers to compete in the final race at Homestead for the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup.
“It’s huge,” Busch said. “It’s our opportunity to succeed and you know God’s given us every opportunity to go do that. Joe and J.D. Gibbs, Coy Gibbs, everybody on this Joe Gibbs Racing team, they’re phenomenal. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys had a great race car for me prepared for this weekend. We tested up here, we came here and we were really good yesterday and we just came out on top today.”
Behind Truex, Clint Bowyer was third, Brad Keselowski, who led 108 laps, was fourth and Kevin Harvick fifth.
Trevor Bayne was sixth, Hamlin was scored seventh followed by Ryan Blaney, Matt Kenseth and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Joey Logano who won the pole earlier in the day led 59 laps and finished 24th.
Playoff driver Jimmie Johnson, who started at the rear of the field after a spin in qualifying, came home 12th.
The next stop is next Sunday with the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, the green will wave just after 2:00 p.m. ET with live coverage on the NBC Sports Network.