Who’s in the headline – After three other drivers looked like they were headed to the victory, it was Kyle Busch getting his picture taken with the Martinsville Grandfather Clock on Sunday night. The first race to finish under the lights at Martinsville Speedway was a rather uneventful affair until the final 20 laps. Through the final laps, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin all were in position to score the win, but circumstances prevented it. Keselowski won the first two stages on Sunday.
What happened – Joey Logano won the pole and led the first 48 laps of the event. After the first restart, it was Keselowski making the pass for the lead. Logano regained the led with another on-track pass for the lead. Jimmie Johnson made a strategy call to take the lead during yellow flag pit stops, but couldn’t hold the lead to the end of the stage and lost it to Keselowski. Busch led the entire second stage, which went green, until two laps to go in the stage. It was Keselowski with another on-track pass for the lead to grab the stage win.
The final stage saw Kyle Larson spin off Turn 2, hitting nose-first into the inside wall and ending his day. Elliott grabbed the lead for the first time after the seventh restart and was in the mix with Keselowski and Busch for the final 172 laps. With laps winding down, Busch tried to get under Logano in Turn 1 and damaged the left rear quarter panel on the No. 22 car. The subsequent tire rub eventually caused a tire failure and a caution on lap 492. Keselowski took the outside on the restart. Elliott drove Keselowski up the track out of turn two to muscle his way to the lead. Hamlin caught up to Elliott on lap 497, put his front bumper into Elliott’s rear end and drove him into Turn 3, spinning him into the outside wall to take the lead. The final restart saw Busch work under Hamlin out of Turn 4 coming to the white flag, as the No. 18 car took the lead and won his third race of the playoffs.
Hamlin wrecked out of Turn 4 coming to the checkered flag and collected a dozen cars including Kevin Harvick, Johnson, Ryan Blaney and Matt Kenseth. The win was the second time in 138 races in the history of Martinsville Speedway that a last lap pass was made for the win.
Why you should care – The victory guarantees Kyle Busch will be one of the four drivers eligible to win the 2017 Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 19. This is the third consecutive year that he will be eligible to win the title. The finish for Elliott has him 26 points below the cut line for the final four. For all intents and purposes, Elliott will have to win at Texas or Phoenix to make the four driver roster with a shot at the title.
This race was the first to end under the lights at Martinsville. The air temperature at the end of the race was 41 degrees with 20 mph winds. Fans on social media are clamoring for a night race at Martinsville. They were lucky it didn’t snow like it was supposed to before the end of the race. Starting a race at night at Martinsville in late October, is worse than running the Firecracker 400 during the heat of the day in July.
What your friends are talking about – The racing world, from Martinsville Speedway garage and parking lots to the Twitterverse and everywhere in between were blowing up over the Hamlin/Elliott incident. Fans continue to beg for more short track racing and this wreck is one of the big reasons. Drivers moved other drivers all day long at Martinsville to gain positions during the race, but they didn’t wreck them. Hamlin wrecked Elliott and the fans in the stands let him know about it.
Hamlin has been a longtime hero at Martinsville based on his Virginia roots. Sunday night he was loudly booed throughout his entire post-race interview that appeared on the video screen above the scoring pylon in the infield. Elliott was cheered profusely for his handling of the situation. For anyone who has any doubt about who will be crowned Most Popular Driver after 2017, the answer was on display Sunday night.
On the cool down lap after the race, Elliott door slammed Hamlin into the wall when both drivers’ window nets were down. That has been a big no-no for years in the sport, but NASCAR did not call anyone to the hauler after the race. There were multiple reports after the race that no penalties are anticipated. While that is always subject to change after the suits digest all of the social media backlash, it is a very bad precedent to set.
During his post-race interview Hamlin was somewhat apologetic, although many fans didn’t seem to think he took enough responsibility. After the race was over and Hamlin had some time to check his Twitter feed and the tens of thousands of mentions, he changed his stance a bit. The following sincere apology was issued via Twitter.
Martinsville Speedway has lights. They fed us a line that they were putting them in as a safety net in case their races ran long so that they didn’t have to cut them short. In less than six months they put out press releases that their fall race would end under the lights thanks to starting at 3 p.m. ET. The weather forecast was for freezing rain and snow Sunday evening. They dodged a huge bullet getting the whole race in. Now there are people talking about running a race completely at night. The insanity needs to stop. Unless they’re going to move the race up to early September, it needs to be run in the daytime.
It is official, Darrell Wallace Jr. will pilot the No. 43 car for Richard Petty Motorsports full-time in 2018. Wallace has been a young star in the sport for years, looking for the opportunity to compete full-time at the top level. After substituting for Aric Almirola during his recovery from a broken back earlier this year, Wallace was rumored to be a potential driver of a second car for RPM.
What a day! Honored to have this opportunity, mom has said since day 1 to my sister and I. "God has a plan"
This is one hell of a plan??
— Bubba Wallace (@BubbaWallace) October 26, 2017
Then, when Smithfield announced they were ending their sponsorship at the end of this season, and Almirola also stated he was leaving, it opened the door for Wallace to be in the No. 43 machine. Wallace is a sponsor’s dream. A huge social media presence, a ‘partner in crime’ with fellow young star Blaney, and a proven race winner, he is a great choice. Hopefully his addition to the team will reinvigorate the RPM organization.[poll id=”19″]
Who is mad – AJ Allmendinger has always known that he is a favorite at road courses. He’s also a force most of the times that we head to southern Virginia. This was not one of those days for Allmendinger. An early incident and the subsequent damage could not be fixed enough for him to maintain minimum speed. The end result was a last-place finish and a DNF after just 94 laps. On the plus side, he was home and warm well before the fans were receiving frostbite when the lights went on.
Elliott had another race where he was poised to score his first win. Unlike other races where he’s had that opportunity, this time he drove aggressively and put himself in position to grab his first trophy in the Cup Series. Through no fault of his own, he was taken out of that possibility. Elliott has every right to be pissed off because he was raced dirty by one of the most established drivers in the sport. His win is coming, it just would have been a great story to have had it lock him into Homestead.
Who is happy – Trevor Bayne had another one of those days going at Martinsville. He was in danger of going down a lap multiple times and took the wave around to get back on the lead lap. In the end he was part of the final melee on the front straight but made it through to score a sixth-place finish. Bayne has finished much of the season in the teens, but this was one of the few races this year he’s knocked out a single-digit finish.
Clint Bowyer started off the year with a top-three finish at Auto Club Speedway, the fifth race of the season. It looked like his inaugural year with Stewart-Haas Racing would reestablish Bowyer as a driver who would contend for titles. Unfortunately, the year has not played out that way with Bowyer currently 18th in points. Short tracks are still a strong suit for Bowyer, and Sunday was another solid run for him at Martinsville.
When the checkered flag flew:
Kyle Busch won the 43rd race of his Cup career in his 459th career start on Sunday.
This was Busch’s second career triumph at Martinsville.
Busch has been victorious in five races in 2017.
The win puts Busch in the 17th position on the All-Time list.
Martin Truex Jr. came home in second place Sunday for the ninth time in 2017.
Truex has finished in the top two at Martinsville Speedway exactly one time.
On the All-Time runner-up list Truex is tied for 62nd with the likes of Tim Richmond and Alan Kulwicki.
Clint Bowyer rounded out the podium at Martinsville.
This is Bowyer’s fifth top-three finish of 2017.
Bowyer has three career top-three runs at Martinsville.
Rookie of the Race was Daniel Suarez. This is the 15th win of the year for Suarez. Erik Jones has won the award 13 times this season while Ty Dillon has snagged the honor four times. Gray Gaulding has been bestowed the award once.
The victory for Kyle Busch slots him into the season finale at Homestead as one of the four drivers who will have a shot at claiming the championship. The win gives him five additional playoff points, but they mean nothing at this point as those points have no bearing on the championship round. The eight drivers who are left to contend for the title, their rank, points, and playoff points as we head into race two of round three of the playoffs:
- Martin Truex Jr. – 4117 – 69
- Kyle Busch – 4100 – 47
- Brad Keselowski – 4079 – 28
- Kevin Harvick – 4053 – 17
- Jimmie Johnson – 4050 – 17
- Ryan Blaney – 4047 – 9
- Denny Hamlin – 4045 – 14
- Chase Elliott – 4027 – 6
What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)
The racing world is abuzz about the action at the end of the race Sunday, and rightly so. Unfortunately, before that it was an average Martinsville race at best. There were several on-track passes for the lead and strategy did come into play. The outside line was even useful at times to make passes. In the end the action during the final laps added one beer to the race so we’ll give it four ice cold Long View American Pale Ales from Mountain Valley Brewing.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – The second race of the round of eight will be held at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, Nov. 5. Coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN. It can also be viewed on the NBCSports App. To listen to the race you can tune into your local PRN affiliate, goprn.com or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.
About the author
What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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