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Championship Bout Is Gibbs vs. Hendrick

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, November 1 2021

Chase Elliott of Hendrick Motorsports and Martin Truex, Jr. of Joe Gibbs Racing at Martinsville. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Early in the 2021 NASCAR Cup season, Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin left little doubt they were title contenders this year, but the championship round has now turned into a Hendrick Motorsports vs. Joe Gibbs Racing duel.

Hendrick drivers Larson and defending series champion Chase Elliott join JGR’s Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. in the title round at Phoenix Raceway next weekend. Together, those four drivers are one victory shy of having won half of the season’s 36 races.  

“I think it’s the best four (teams) that you could possibly put in that race,” Hamlin said. “I think all of them would be deserving champions. Obviously, Kyle (with nine victories and the regular season championship) would make the most sense.”

Larson agreed with Hamlin that the “four most deserving teams” comprise the final four. 

Larson was the only one who entered Sunday’s Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway guaranteed a position in the championship round. He had won the other two races in the round of eight — Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway. 

Sunday, Elliott won the first two stages at Martinsville to solidify his spot in the final four, but it wasn’t until Alex Bowman won the overtime race at the tough short track that the other two title contenders were known. Truex described the round of eight as creating more anxiety than the season finale championship race.  

“It’s the eight best guys trying to whittle it down to four,” Truex said. “You know it’s going to be tight. You know it’s gonna be close. Every spot is going to matter. Then you come down to Martinsville and you know it’s going to be a nail biter, which it was.” 

If Kyle Busch had won instead of finishing second, he would have been in contention for the championship instead of Truex. A victory by Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney would have had the same effect in determining who was in the title round. Instead, Team Penske had all three drivers eliminated.

Even though Elliott led four times for 289 laps, a turn three spin after getting clipped by Keselowski relegated him to a 16th-place finish.

“I was racing hard on the outside,” Elliott said. “I wasn’t super surprised that he made a mistake. As hard as he hit me, I knew he didn’t just clean me out on purpose. I figured he wheel hopped or something.

“The real reason that happened was because I made a bad decision on what to do to our car and we started playing defense. When you start playing defense you typically start crashing a lot of times, especially with guys that need to win. So I blame myself for leading us down the wrong path more than anything. I didn’t think it was on purpose.”  

Hamlin, who led three times for 103 laps, was less gracious towards Bowman who spun him on lap 494 when they were battling for the lead. That incident sent the race into overtime and left Hamlin reeling with anger. After finishing 24th, Hamlin confronted Bowman on the frontstretch following the checkered flag. When Bowman spun his car around, Hamlin met him with the front of his car.

“I think he sent us on the first lap after the restart, he just pushed us all the way until we got in the shit in (turns) three and four,” Hamlin said. “I got back position on him and then he just kept running into us. I finally moved up. … He saw it wasn’t going to be easy, so he just took the easiest route possible. It nearly all ended (for me) in turn three.” 

The Virginia native also maintained the fans who booed him were Elliott fans.

“They don’t think straightly,” Hamlin said. “They’re going to lose next week. I’ll tell you that.”

When Elliott was asked about Hamlin’s remarks, the Georgia native grinned, chuckled and sarcastically said, “I’m gonna lose so much sleep tonight. I might not sleep at all. … My fans don’t care either.”

Truex pulled out a fourth-place finish and he couldn’t have been happier due to all the problems he experienced Sunday. During the 501-lap race, Truex’s Toyota had a loose wheel, sustained damage, had two tire rubs, bounced off the wall, and suffered a damaged valve stem on the left-front tire that was discovered after the race.

“I have no idea how we finished fourth,” Truex said. “I’m going to buy a lottery ticket on the way home.”

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NASCAR Cup Series Race – 73rd Annual Xfinity 500

Martinsville Speedway

Martinsville, Virginia

Sunday, October 31, 2021

  1. (13)  Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 501.
  2. (7)  Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, 501.
  3. (6)  Brad Keselowski (P), Ford, 501.
  4. (4)  Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 501.
  5. (11)  William Byron, Chevrolet, 501.
  6. (23)  Aric Almirola, Ford, 501.
  7. (10)  Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 501.
  8. (28)  Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 501.
  9. (15)  Chris Buescher, Ford, 501.
  10. (5)  Joey Logano (P), Ford, 501.
  11. (8)  Ryan Blaney (P), Ford, 501.
  12. (9)  Kevin Harvick, Ford, 501.
  13. (14)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 501.
  14. (1)  Kyle Larson (P), Chevrolet, 501.
  15. (21)  Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 501.
  16. (2)  Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 501.
  17. (12)  Christopher Bell, Toyota, 501.
  18. (18)  Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 501.
  19. (25)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 501.
  20. (32)  Anthony Alfredo #, Ford, 501.
  21. (29)  Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 501.
  22. (22)  Chase Briscoe #, Ford, 501.
  23. (24)  Cole Custer, Ford, 501.
  24. (3)  Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 501.
  25. (17)  Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 501.
  26. (19)  Michael McDowell, Ford, 499.
  27. (16)  Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 498.
  28. (20)  Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 498.
  29. (30)  BJ McLeod(i), Ford, 496.
  30. (31)  Cody Ware(i), Chevrolet, 495.
  31. (35)  Justin Haley(i), Chevrolet, 492.
  32. (27)  Ryan Newman, Ford, 491.
  33. (37)  Garrett Smithley(i), Chevrolet, 490.
  34. (36)  Quin Houff, Chevrolet, 483.
  35. (33)  Josh Bilicki(i), Ford, 483.
  36. (26)  Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, Brakes, 414.
  37. (38)  Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, Engine, 206.
  38. (34)  Joey Gase(i), Chevrolet, Electrical, 10.

 

Average Speed of Race Winner:  70.968 mph.

Time of Race:  3 Hrs, 42 Mins, 48 Secs. Margin of Victory:  .472 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  15 for 91 laps.

Lead Changes:  15 among 7 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   K. Larson (P) 1-55;C. Elliott (P) 56-62;K. Larson (P) 63-84;C. Elliott (P) 85-199;M. Truex Jr. (P) 200-204;C. Elliott (P) 205-341;J. Logano (P) 342-350;C. Elliott (P) 351-380;A. Dillon 381-385;M. Truex Jr. (P) 386-388;D. Hamlin (P) 389-437;M. Truex Jr. (P) 438;D. Hamlin (P) 439-477;A. Bowman 478;D. Hamlin (P) 479-493;A. Bowman 494-501.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Chase Elliott (P) 4 times for 289 laps; Denny Hamlin (P) 3 times for 103 laps; Kyle Larson (P) 2 times for 77 laps; Alex Bowman 2 times for 9 laps; Martin Truex Jr. (P) 3 times for 9 laps; Joey Logano (P) 1 time for 9 laps; Austin Dillon 1 time for 5 laps.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 9,5,19,24,2,18,3,48,22,10

Stage #2 Top Ten: 9,48,24,19,11,10,20,2,18,1

 

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, November 1 2021
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