Kyle Busch Survives ‘Kill’ Mode To Win Martinsville

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 30 2017

Kyle Busch kept his 2017 NASCAR Cup championship hopes rolling by driving to victory at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Kyle Busch punched his ticket to the championship round with a narrow victory in Martinsville Speedway’s First Data 500, but the final 10 laps in Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race provided more twists-and-turns than a TV soap opera.

“The last run of the race there, everybody was just set on kill and trading paint and using the bumper and short on tempers,” said Adam Stevens, Busch’s crew chief. “It was a crazy race.”

By the time the checkered flag waved in overtime, most of the field had crashed on the frontstretch. Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin were in a heated discussion on the backstretch after Elliott ran Hamlin into the wall on the cool-down lap, and Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney were exchanging words on pit road.

“Life ain’t fair, bud,” Busch said after winning his fifth victory this season and the 43rd of his career. “What’s fair and what’s not is irrelevant. I just think that when it comes down to the end of the race and you’re racing for a win like that and you see the white flag waving and the door kind of cracks its way open a little bit, you’ve got to put your foot in there and go get it.

“That was our opportunity to punch our ticket to be able to go to Homestead, and Denny thought the same thing racing with the 24 (Elliott), and, obviously, I kind of moved him out of the way; didn’t crash him or anything like that, and was able to go on and get the checkered flag today.”

The race’s bizarre ending began when Busch and Joey Logano exchanged sheet metal while battling for third. Logano’s dented sheet metal on his Ford’s left- rear tire gave him a severe tire rub that constantly billowed smoke. At the time, Logano’s Penske teammate, Brad Keselowski, had passed Elliott for the lead, had increased his advantage to more than a second and appeared headed for victory.

Logano, meanwhile, continued to struggle around the tough half-mile track, hoping to nurse it to the scheduled 500-lap race’s conclusion. However, he didn’t make it. On lap 492, the dented sheet metal cut Logano’s left-rear tire and sent him into a lazy spin in turn two, bringing out the 10th caution flag with eight laps remaining.

“When it’s rubbing that bad, you know you’ve got about five, six, seven laps,” Busch said. “What’s crazy is I actually smelt it go from rubber to cords and knew it was coming. I knew he didn’t have much time left.”

When the race restarted with four laps remaining, Keselowski elected to start on the outside, giving second-place Elliott the inside lane. Hamlin was behind Elliott. Busch and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top five. Once the green flag waved, Elliott stayed side-by-side with Keselowski, moving him up the track in turn four and securing the No. 1 position. Hamlin followed Elliott under Keselowski to take over second. It was then the fireworks began. On lap 498, Hamlin picked up the rear of Elliott’s Chevrolet as they headed into turn three and sent him spinning into the outside wall. Busch grabbed second and Clint Bowyer third.

The 11th and final caution period consumed laps 498-503. When the race restarted, Hamlin was leading, Busch second, Bowyer third, Truex fourth and Ryan Blaney fifth. Busch, however, didn’t cut his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate any slack. He nudged him out of the way and Truex followed through the opening as did Bowyer to finish second and third, respectively. However, when Blaney attempted to get past Hamlin a collision occurred and chaos erupted behind them.

“Everybody wrecked everybody there at the end,” Hamlin said. “It was bullshit chaos.”    

While several of the damaged cars attempted to limp around the track, Elliott pulled alongside Hamlin on the backstretch, ran into him and carried him into the wall. They then stopped their cars, climbed from them and confronted each other with their helmets off. Caught on camera by NBCSN, Elliott’s lips could easily be read when he told Hamlin, “You wrecked me!”

After returning to their cars and driving to pit road, they again stepped from their cars and talked with the media.

“I was trying to get a race win,” Hamlin said. “This is a ticket to Homestead. I’m not sitting here, saying I wrecked him on purpose. I tried to move him out of the way. He didn’t make the corner because I had his backend jacked up; that’s for sure.”

Hamlin drew boos from the crowd when his interview flashed on the track’s big screen, while Elliott’s appearance resulted in cheers.

“My momma always said if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all, so he’s not even worth my time,” Elliott said about Hamlin. “It was just unnecessary. We had a clean restart, we were racing hard for the lead and there was no one pushing him into turn three. It’s definitely 100-percent unnecessary and uncalled for. We had a great car and a good opportunity. I thought I was doing what I needed to do. I can’t control his decisions.”

Harvick and Blaney confronted each other about an incident that occurred earlier in the race when Blaney wouldn’t let Harvick pass and Harvick beat on Blaney’s bumper for several laps around NASCAR’s shortest track. Harvick told Blaney he didn’t like being brake checked.

Heading to Texas, Truex possesses a 17-point lead over Busch, but, of course, Busch has already assured himself a spot in the championship round with his victory. Keselowski is third in the standings, while Harvick is fourth. The bottom four drivers with two races remaining in the semi-final round are Jimmie Johnson, Blaney, Hamlin and Elliott.

“Seemed like a lot of guys made enemies tonight and we didn’t,” Truex said. “With three races to go, I don’t really think I want any enemies, and I’m in pretty good shape. We’ll just keep doing our thing and race our race, and Texas should be a great track for us. Hopefully, we’ll go there next week and just continue to do what we’ve done all year long.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 30 2017
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