All is fair in love and war, as it is in short track racing. The Round of 8 commenced at Martinsville Speedway with the First Data 500, and that mantra was certainly the case as Joey Logano battled his way to victory in a dramatic duel with Martin Truex Jr.
Kyle Busch started on the pole with Clint Bowyer in second. Truex and Darrell Wallace Jr. started at the rear after failing inspection and requiring a backup car, respectively.
Busch pulled ahead quickly as the playoff drivers quickly scrambled to take over the top ten. On lap 32, Denny Hamlin passed his Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate for the lead, with Busch beginning to fall as Bowyer took second shortly after.
On lap 43, Jeb Burton, running his first Monster Energy Cup race since 2016, hit the turn two wall to bring out the caution. Busch won the race off pit road as Logano gained five spots following his stop to move up to second. Alex Bowman received a speeding penalty.
The restart took place on lap 50 as Busch led Logano.
On lap 71, Jimmie Johnson spun while racing Erik Jones to bring out the caution; Johnson had hit the curb, causing the #48 to wheel-hop before spinning. Most of the field stayed out as others like the Chip Ganassi Racing duo of Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson pitted; the first out of the pits, McMurray restarted twenty-second.
The race resumed on lap 77 with Busch leading. As the race neared the 100-lap mark, the field began to separate under green flag conditions. By lap 108, all eight playoff drivers were in the top twelve.
Hamlin took the lead on lap 116 and drove off to score the stage win ahead of Logano, Busch, Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Truex, Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick, and Aric Almirola. Chase Elliott was the lone playoff driver to fail to score stage points.
Between stages, Bowyer made contact with William Byron on pit road, but did not suffer substantial damage. Blaney suffered an uncontrolled tire penalty. Stage #2 began on lap 140 with Logano taking the lead.
By lap 152, every playoff driver was in the top ten as Logano led Kyle Busch. In a relatively uneventful stage for the leader, Logano extended his lead over Busch.
On lap 236, Regan Smith was slow on the track but was able to pit without causing a yellow flag. Austin Dillon also made an unscheduled stop to fall off the pace.
With the stage winding down, Hamlin began to close on Logano for the lead as Harvick fell a lap down. Hamlin made his move on lap 258 but failed; two laps later, he tried again, the two going side-by-side to the finish as Logano edged him for the stage win. Behind the two were Busch, Truex, Kurt Busch, Newman, Elliott, Bowyer, A.J. Allmendinger, and Brad Keselowski.
Logano was the first out of pit road. The final stage commenced on lap 270.
On lap 329, Matt DiBenedetto went to the garage for mechanical issues before returning to the race.
With Logano continuing his domination, Truex entered the picture as the two began to fight for the lead. Truex, who started thirty-third, completed the pass on lap 360.
On lap 366, Byron’s brake rotor failed and he hit the wall in turn three to bring out the yellow flag. Truex remained the leader after pitting and the race resumed on lap 374. Another caution came out 14 laps later when Timmy Hill‘s #66 caught fire on pit road.
The top six, along with Ty Dillon and Newman, stayed out. The green flag waved on lap 393 with Logano leading, but another yellow was waved four laps later when Larson’s car began smoking.
The next restart occurred on lap 416 with Logano and Truex on the front row. Logano’s inside line pushed forward as Truex found himself stranded on the outside, with Keselowski joining his Team Penske comrade at the front. Keselowski took the lead on lap 419, while Truex eventually fell out of the top five before settling in.
As Truex attempted to climb back up, Keselowski continued to lead. Hamlin passed Logano for second on lap 455. Two laps later, Bowyer made contact with Johnson and spun, resulting in a caution.
Logano and Busch comprised the front row for the lap 464 restart, but the latter lost his position to Keselowski and Truex. As Keselowski and Logano battled for the lead, Truex capitalised to move on them.
With less than ten laps to go in the race, Logano and Truex dueled for first. As they approached the final lap, Truex cleared Logano, but the latter bumped him aside in turn three. When the pair exited turn four, they made more contact and went sideways, but Logano was able to hold his car stable and cross the line. Hamlin ducked to the inside to steal second from Truex.
On the cool-down lap, Truex showed his displeasure with the move by bumping into Logano. Truex had to settle for third, followed by Busch, Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Elliott, Newman, Daniel Suárez, and Harvick. Almirola (eleventh) and Bowyer (twenty-first) are the only playoff drivers to not finish in the top ten. With the win, Logano is guaranteed a spot in the Championship Round in November.
“He may have won the battle, but he ain’t winning the damn war,” Truex commented in a post-race interview with NBCSN. “He ain’t. I’m just not going to let him win and I’m gonna win it.”
“It was a fun race there in the end,” Logano said. “Martin was definitely better, our car wasn’t as good there on that last run and I was doing all I can to be as defensive as I could.”
Next week, the Cup Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway for the AAA Texas 500. Harvick is the defending winner.