MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Highlights of Sunday’s First Data 500, the first race of the third round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, at Martinsville Speedway:
WINNER: Kyle Busch overtook Denny Hamlin in overtime to win the Round of 8 opener at the 70-year-old, half-mile track in southwest Virginia.
Busch guaranteed himself a spot in the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway with the victory and a chance to win his second championship. Busch won his first title in 2015.
Points leader Martin Truex Jr. finished second, followed by Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowksi and Kevin Harvick. The race ended under caution as a massive wreck broke out before Busch crossed the start-finish line. Hamlin finished seventh.
"There's a lot more tension on eeveryone else than there is us," a clearly pleased Busch said in victory lane. "Great win here today at Martinsville. We put ourselves in the right spot in the end, and there was just chaos unfolding and we took advantage. Just looking forward to going to Homestead. We can go out and race for wins and let everybody else have to worry."
Following the checkered flag, a very frustrated Chase Elliott drove alongside Hamlin and turned him into the wall. Elliott had seemed on the verge of scoring of his first career Cup Series win before Hamlin spun him out in the final laps before the overtime restart.
Once the drivers climbed out of their cars, the drama only escalated as Elliott, who led 123 laps but finished 27 after the crash, got right into Hamlin's face, demonstrably making his point, while Hamlin tried to defend himself.
"My mom always said if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all," Elliott, said in regard to Hamlin. "He's not worth my time, so we'll move onto Texas. It was just unneccessary and uncalled for. I can't control his decisions and whatever the hell that was."
Hamlin claimed he didn't intend to wreck Elliott, he was just racing for the win. "I got in the back of him and he spun," Hamlin said. "I'm trying to get a race win. Everybody wrecked everyone at the end. It was a mess at the end. Everyone was doing the exact same thing. I hate it for his team, but this was a ticket to Homestead. I'm not saying I wrecked him on purpose but I got in the back of him and he spun out."
ROUGH RESTART: On the penultimate restart on lap 497, race leader Keselowski chose the outside line with Elliott running on the inside. Elliott ran Keselowski's No. 2 Ford up the race track to take the lead until Hamlin raced to his back bumper, made contact and spun Elliott into the wall. Elliott crashed to bring out the caution and an overtime restart.
A LONG CAUTION: A Carl Long crash with 43 laps to go brought the leaders to the pits for key stops. Elliott’s crew returned his car to the track first. He was leading when Long’s wreck occurred. Elliott was followed out of the pits by Keselowski, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch.
LARSON CRASHES: Kyle Larson, who fell out of the playoffs last week at Kansas Speedway, lost control of his Chevrolet on lap 302 and crashed into the inside wall on the backstretch, causing the fifth caution of the day. Larson finished 37th, his second consecutive finish of 35th or worse.
STAGE TWO: The race’s second stage ended with a tense battle for the lead between Keselowski and arch-rival Kyle Busch. They bumped fenders with three laps remaining in the stage, Keselowski eventually winning the race to the finish line by 1.1 seconds. Following in the top 10 were Logano, Truex, Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson.
STAGE ONE: Keselowski, targeting Sunday’s race as a must-win, outran Kyle Busch by 1.1 seconds to win the race’s first stage on lap 130. Completing the top 10 were Logano, Johnson, Truex, Elliott, Blaney, Kasey Kahne, Austin Dillon and Denny Hamlin.
ALLMENDINGER SPINS: Contact between Danica Patrick and AJ Allmendinger sent Allmendinger’s car sliding on lap 87, bringing out the race’s third caution.
CAUTION ONE: Ty Dillon and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. wrecked in turn two on lap 37 to produce the first caution of the afternoon. NASCAR had planned to have a competition caution at lap 45 but chose to use the first true caution for the competition period.
JOHNSON TO THE BACK: Seven-time champion Johnson started the race at the back of the field after losing control of his Chevrolet during Sunday qualifying and almost hitting the wall. By lap 85, he had moved into 16th place.
JUNIOR’S WIFE PACES FIELD: Amy Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s wife, drove the pace car at the front of the field before the start of the race. Long-time pace car driver Brett Bodine accompanied her for some practice laps Sunday morning. “What an awesome gift,” she tweeted. “Thank you so much for letting me drive the pace car today! The perspective from that rear view compares to nothing!”
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