When it is the final race before the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Round, every option seems reasonable as playoff hopefuls fight for the four spots and non-title contenders want to play spoiler. Alex Bowman fits into the latter category as he made contact with playoff driver Denny Hamlin late in Sunday’s Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway before holding off a desperate Kyle Busch to win his fourth race of the year.
Kyle Larson, already locked into the final round, started on the pole while Hamlin faced an uphill battle almost immediately after failing pre-race inspection twice and had to start at the back. Larson led the first 55 laps before Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Elliott passed him and became the leader at the lap 62 competition caution. Hamlin had climbed up to nineteenth by the yellow, but suffered a speeding penalty that relegated him back to the rear for the lap 68 restart.
Larson retook the lead at the green. Ryan Newman spun on lap 72 for the first race-related caution of the day. Elliott reclaimed first on lap 85 and led through the end of the stage. Following him were Larson, Martin Truex Jr., William Byron, Brad Keselowski, Busch, Austin Dillon, Bowman, Joey Logano, and Aric Almirola.
A speeding penalty on Larson between stages placed Truex on the front row alongside Elliott to start Stage #2. Elliott led until Dillon’s right-front tyre went down and sent him into the turn two wall on lap 196. Truex and Elliott traded the lead after the restart, and the latter drove off to win the stage again and clinch his spot in the Championship Four. Bowman and Byron climbed through the order to record a Hendrick 1–2–3. Truex, Hamlin, Almirola, Christopher Bell, Keselowski, and Kyle and Kurt Busch rounded out the top ten.
Similar to the Xfinity and Truck Series support races on Saturday, the Cup race saw only a handful of cautions across the first two stages before mounting in the longer Stage #3; after just two race-related yellows in Stages #1 and 2, the final segment saw ten. Josh Bilicki and Corey LaJoie spun on lap 309 for the first, followed by Quin Houff and Bilicki’s contact on lap 322. Houff then spun Bilicki under caution, resulting in him being held on pit road for five laps. Lap 338 saw Newman get turned by Cole Custer into Ross Chastain. Daniel Suárez and Dillon also produced single-car incidents of their own, while Elliott was clipped by Keselowski. JTG Daugherty Racing‘s Ryan Preece and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. caused cautions as well.
On lap 493, Hamlin was turned by Bowman while fighting for the lead, setting up overtime. A strong restart by Bowman on the inside enabled him to clear Busch on the backstretch. The leaders ran single-file and Busch got loose in turn two, which gave Bowman enough of a cushion to distance himself and peel away for the win.
The victory is Bowman’s fourth of the year, while he is the first non-playoff driver to win at Martinsville since ex-Hendrick driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2017. Hendrick also sweeps the Round of 8, a feat that was previously achieved with by the team in the same round in 2015; Team Penske with Logano won all three races in the Round of 12 that same year, while Joe Gibbs Racing did so with the 2017 Round of 16.
Despite still advancing to the Championship Round, Hamlin was less than pleased with the contact as he finished twenty-fourth. When Bowman attempted to celebrate with a burnout, Hamlin cut him off and parked his car nose-to-nose with Bowman before driving forwards and pushing the #48 backwards, giving him double middle fingers in the process. Hamlin eventually drove off.
“He’s just a hack, just an absolute hack,” Hamlin told NBC. “He gets his ass kicked by his team-mates every week. He’s fucking 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 tenth. He didn’t want to race us there. We had a good, clean race. I moved up as high as I could on the race track to give him all the room I could, he still can’t drive.”
Bowman defended the contact as him just entering the corner to deep and added he surrendered the lead back to Hamlin afterwards: “For anybody that wants to think I was trying to crash him, obviously 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.”
Truex, who hit the wall late, still rebounded to finish fourth and squeeze his way into the final round. He will go for his second career title after winning in 2017, while Elliott hope for a repeat. Hamlin and Larson are seeking their first championships.
|1||13||48||Alex Bowman||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||501||Running|
|2||7||18||Kyle Busch||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||501||Running|
|3||6||2||Brad Keselowski||Team Penske||Ford||501||Running|
|4||4||19||Martin Truex Jr.||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||501||Running|
|5||11||24||William Byron||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||501||Running|
|6||23||10||Aric Almirola||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||501||Running|
|7||10||1||Kurt Busch||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet||501||Running|
|8||28||43||Erik Jones||Richard Petty Motorsports||Chevrolet||501||Running|
|9||15||17||Chris Buescher||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||501||Running|
|10||5||22||Joey Logano||Team Penske||Ford||501||Running|
|11||8||12||Ryan Blaney||Team Penske||Ford||501||Running|
|12||9||4||Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||501||Running|
|13||14||3||Austin Dillon||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||501||Running|
|14||1||5||Kyle Larson||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||501||Running|
|15||21||21||Matt DiBenedetto||Wood Brothers Racing||Ford||501||Running|
|16||2||9||Chase Elliott||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||501||Running|
|17||12||20||Christopher Bell||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||501||Running|
|18||18||8||Tyler Reddick||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||501||Running|
|19||25||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||501||Running|
|20||32||38||Anthony Alfredo||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||501||Running|
|21||29||7||Corey LaJoie||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||501||Running|
|22||22||14||Chase Briscoe||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||501||Running|
|23||24||41||Cole Custer||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||501||Running|
|24||3||11||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||501||Running|
|25||17||23||Bubba Wallace||23XI Racing||Toyota||501||Running|
|26||19||34||Michael McDowell||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||499||Running|
|27||16||42||Ross Chastain||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet||498||Running|
|28||20||99||Daniel Suárez||Trackhouse Racing Team||Chevrolet||498||Running|
|29||30||78||B.J. McLeod*||Live Fast Motorsports||Ford||496||Running|
|30||31||51||Cody Ware*||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||495||Running|
|31||35||77||Justin Haley*||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||492||Running|
|32||27||6||Ryan Newman||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||491||Running|
|33||37||15||Garrett Smithley*||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||490||Running|
|34||36||00||Quin Houff||StarCom Racing||Chevrolet||483||Running|
|35||33||52||Josh Bilicki*||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||483||Running|
|36||26||37||Ryan Preece||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||414||Brakes|
|37||38||66||Timmy Hill*||MBM Motorsports||Toyota||206||Engine|
|38||34||53||Joey Gase*||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||10||Electrical|
Underline – Eliminated from playoffs
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for Cup points