Kyle Busch Wins In Chaotic Final Lap at Martinsville
Kyle Busch won his fifth race of the season in Sunday's First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway in a chaotic final three-lap shootout that looked more like a melee at Talladega than a short-track race.
In a race where no lead seemed safe in the final five laps, Busch emerged from the mess with his second-career Grandfather clock and an automatic ticket to the Final Four in three weeks at Homestead-Miami Speedway in a bid for his second Cup Series title.
After nudging his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin out of the way with one lap to go, Busch held off Martin Truex, Jr. for the final two turns to take the checkered flag, while Hamlin spun coming out of turn four on the final lap, triggering a 10-car pileup right at the start-finish line.
Clint Bowyer came home third, while Brad Keselowski sneaked through the carnage to grab fourth and Kevin Harvick finished fifth sliding sideways across the finish line.
It was the third win of the playoffs for Busch, who is the first driver to qualify to battle it out for the championship.
"Awesome to get to victory lane here at Martinsville," said Busch. "You know I wanted to win Charlotte, Martinsville and Homestead and that'll make us this year's champions, so we've got one more. We can go out there and race for wins and try to get more of course and just let everybody else have to worry.
"We weren't the best all day, but we put ourselves in the right spots there at the end and there was kind of chaos ensuing and none of it was our fault, we just came out on the right end of the stick."
Busch restarted on the outside of Hamlin for the final green-white-checkered shootout and fell behind on the opening lap before getting to the inside of Hamlin going into turn four and then pushed his way past and into the lead as Hamlin got booted out of the racing groove and fell back to fifth.
Busch made no apologies for booting Hamlin out of the lead, saying Hamlin was thinking the same thing while racing for the lead with Chase Elliott.
"Life ain't fair, bud. What's fair and what's not is irrelevant," said Busch. "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."
Hamlin's misfortune on the final lap seemed to be poetic justice for Chase Elliott, who lost his chance for his first Cup Series win after being punted by Hamlin while leading the race with three laps to go.
While the first half of the race had been a battle between Penske teammates Keselowski and Joey Logano, the second half of the race was a duel between Keselowski and Elliott.
After taking the lead for the first time with a pass on Kyle Busch on lap 325, Elliott and Keselowski would trade the lead five times over the next 150 laps.
With 30 laps to go, Keselowski was back out in front with Elliott wearing out his back bumper before Elliott dove to the inside with four laps to go and drove Keselowski nearly into the outside wall, forcing Keselowski out of the groove.
With Elliott out in front, Hamlin moved into second place and just a lap later drove right into the bumper of Elliott, sending the no. 24 Chevrolet spinning into the outside wall and bringing out the caution to setup the overtime finish.
"I got punted from behind and wrecked in Turn 3 leading the race," said Elliott, who finished 27th. "I don't know what his problem was. It was unnecessary I hadn't raced him dirty all-day long. There was no reason for that
"I don't know what the deal was, but it is so disappointing. We had the best car I've ever had here at Martinsville. And had an opportunity to go straight to Homestead and because of him we don't."
Elliott, who could have have left Martinsville near the top of the playoff standings, now finds himself dead last among the eight remaining playoff drivers, 73 points behind Busch and 26 points behind Harvick in the last transfers spot.
Hamlin rallied to finish seventh, but said the contact with Elliott was just hard racing for the lead.
"I got into the back of him (Chase Elliott) and he spun out," said Hamlin. "Trying to get a race win, everyone wrecked everybody there at the end. It was complete chaos.
"It was just a mess at the end. I mean, you know everybody is doing the exact same thing. I hate it for his team, I understand they had a win for a long time coming, but this is a ticket to Homestead. Not sure you know - I'm not sitting here saying I wrecked him on purpose and I tried to move him out of the way and spun out."
Busch now leads the Playoff standings, followed by Truex, Jr., Keselowski, Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Blaney and Hamlin with two more races left in the Round of Eight before the final four drivers compete for the title on Nov. 19.
KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 M&M's Halloween Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 1st
Talk about the win here tonight.
"It's just a great win for this whole M&M's Halloween Toyota Camry. Awesome to get to victory lane here at Martinsville. You know I wanted to win Charlotte, Martinsville and Homestead and that'll make us this year's champions, so we've got one more. Just wanted to say our guys did an awesome job preparing this car. We weren't the best all day, but we put ourselves in the right spots there at the end and there was kind of chaos ensuing and none of it was our fault, we just came out on the right end of the stick. Can't say enough about NOS Energy Drinks, Cessna, DVX Sunglasses. My son Brexton's at home, he's not here with us this weekend, so want to say hey to him, we'll see you later tonight buddy. Looking forward to going to Homestead."
Bit of a rollercoaster for you today, what was your car doing throughout the race? It seemed like it was really good at times and when it was bad it was just running fourth.
"Yeah, it just - it wouldn't go forward off the corners. We just lacked the ability to put the gas down off the corner and I don't know why. I don't what we changed overnight to hinder that. I felt like we were actually pretty good with that yesterday. When we were out front leading it for that stretch, you know we were pretty good, but that's why Brad (Keselowski) ended up getting by us is I just couldn't touch the gas off the corners at the end of that run. We definitely got to work on a little bit more and see what we can find to be better there."
With this win, how do you approach the rest of the Playoffs heading to Texas and Phoenix?
"We can go out there and race for wins and try to get more of course and just let everybody else have to worry you know, and then not give them a chance to breathe and get their, their heads on their shoulders going into that week at Homestead."
What did you see happen on that final restart?
"No, I wanted to get a better restart, pinch Denny (Hamlin) down a little bit, but it actually kind of worked out better for me that he got ahead a little bit, gave me a gap, I got down and he got into turn three and just pushed up the race track and I knew I had to plug that hole right away cause I was just gonna get beat on from behind, so I got up in there and rooted him out of the way a little bit and we dragged raced down the front straightaway and deep into one, I just wheel-hopped, chattered the rear tires and it was sideways getting in there trying to calm it down with the brakes and everything else. Was able to get through there luckily somehow. I don't know how and beat (Martin) Truex (Jr.) off of turn four back to the start finish line."
Take us through those last couple of laps and what you were able to do to take the lead.
"Kind of. I don't know. We just didn't get very good of a restart. I wanted to be on Denny (Hamlin)'s outside and try to pinch him a little bit, but I didn't get a very good restart. Came up turn two, had clean race track, got down behind him and went off into turn three and he pushed up, washed up the race track and I was able to come underneath him and get to the bottom there and then, and root him out of the way a little bit. You know it's time to go and I was getting kind of beat on from behind or it was gonna come. I knew it was gonna come anyways and put a drag race down the front straightaway into turn one and I chattered the rear tires on the brakes getting in there and I slid up into him. I had (Martin) Truex (Jr.) on me there down the backstretch through (turns) three and four. Just knew that I had to get that momentum off of four and came back to the start finish line. Great day for this whole M&M's team and everybody don't forget Halloween's on Tuesday, so your M&M's candy are going to be a hot commodity, that's for sure. This Toyota was fast. We hung up front all day long. Thanks to NOS Energy Drinks, Cessna, DVX Sunglasses, my son Brexton's at home, so really looking forward to getting home and seeing him tonight."
Another chance at a championship. How big is that?
"It's huge. It's our opportunity to succeed and you know God's given us every opportunity to go do that. Joe and J.D. Gibbs, Coy Gibbs, everybody on this Joe Gibbs Racing team, they're phenomenal. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys had a great race car for me prepared for this weekend. We tested up here, we came here and we were really good yesterday and we just came out on top today."
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