The NASCAR Cup Series championship field is now set. Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, and Martin Truex Jr. will head to Phoenix Raceway and battle for the Bill France Cup after a wild cutoff race that Alex Bowman won at Martinsville Speedway on October 31.
Eight Cup Series drivers entered the race at the Virginia Short track with championship dreams. Larson had the most secure spot after winning two races and punching his ticket, but the other seven needed to make moves. Elliott joined Larson in the championship four after winning the first two stages.
The battle continued during the final stage. Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, and Truex all battled for position and that one crucial point that would lock them into the championship four. However, the situation changed when Hamlin lost grip and slid up into the wall with a tap from Bowman. This slide sent the race into overtime and put Bowman and Busch on the front row.
The driver of the No. 48 missed a shift on the final restart, but he used a fast stock car to jump to the front of the pack. He maintained his lead over Busch for the final two laps and crossed the start-finish line first to win his fourth race of the season. Busch finished second, Keselowski took third, and Truex finished fourth.
Hamlin had enough of a points cushion, so he managed to sneak into the playoffs after the collision. Truex locked up the final spot in the championship four after making enough moves early. He edged out his teammate in Busch by a mere three points despite finishing behind him on the track.
Hamlin Had Strong Words for Bowman After the Contact
The driver of the No. 11 made it to the championship four, but he was not happy as he left the race track. He showcased his displeasure with Bowman by driving up to him near the start-finish line, going nose-to-nose with the No. 48, and throwing up double middle fingers. Hamlin also made very strong statements about Bowman.
“He’s just a hack, an absolute hack,” Hamlin said after the race to NBC Sports. “He gets his a** kicked by his teammates every week. He’s just f****** terrible. He’s just terrible, and he sees this one opportunity and he takes it. He has the fastest car every week, and he runs 10th.”
Hamlin said that he ran as high as he could up the track to give Bowman room but that the Hendrick Motorsports wheelman “can’t drive.” Bowman responded by saying that his contact with Hamlin was unintentional and that he gave the driver of the No. 11 the lead back after some early contact.
This race was not the first example of a Martinsville incident between a Hendrick Motorsports driver and Hamlin. The driver of the No. 11 actually sent Elliott into the wall during a pivotal playoff race at Martinsville on October 29, 2017. Both men fought for a spot in the final four, but Elliott ended his day 27th after the collision while Hamlin took seventh.
Like the 2021 race, the two drivers had an intense discussion after the checkered flag waved. Hamlin said that “everybody was wrecking everybody” and that it was “bulls*** chaos.” Elliott responded and said that Hamlin was “not worth my time.”
A Championship Hopeful Had a Catastrophic Day
While Truex, Elliott, and Hamlin made enough moves to secure their spots in the championship four, another driver struggled with a difficult afternoon. Ryan Blaney, the driver of the No. 12 Ford Team Penske Ford Mustang, entered the cutoff race one point below the line but could not gain enough ground.
The issues began early in the elimination race. Blaney’s car was just off, limiting his ability to make moves on the track. The No. 12 team had to make adjustments at the competition caution to get Blaney “more drive,” but the moves did not fix the issues. He continued to struggle.
The situation worsened for Blaney after Austin Dillon made contact with him for the second week in a row. The No. 3 hit the No. 12 from behind and caused damage to the rear of the stock car. The audio revealed that Blaney’s throttle cut out, but there was no clear answer as to whether he checked up or just lost power.
The hits kept coming for the championship hopeful. Blaney made a pit stop, but the team’s air gun broke when tightening the lug nuts on the final tire. The crew had to pull out the backup gun, which cost them extra seconds and led to lost position on the track.
Blaney finally began to make strides during the final stage, but he did not have quite enough time or drive to maneuver through the field and battle for the win. He ended the day 11th overall, behind multiple other playoff drivers and well below the playoff cutline.