Quick Glance At NASCAR Playoffs: Kyle Busch Wins As Tempers Flare At Martinsville

Here’s a quick weekly glance at the four-round, elimination-style Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs that makes a stop at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday for the AAA Texas 500, the middle race of the Round of 8. A brief recap of the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series playoffs also is included with both series having races at Texas Motor Speedway as part of a NASCAR tripleheader weekend that begins Thursday.
WHO: The eight-driver championship field competing in the three-race Round of 8 are seven-time and defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott of Hendrick Motorsports; regular-season champion Martin Truex Jr. of Furniture Row Racing; Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing; Kevin Harvick of Stewart-Haas Racing; Brad Keselowski of Team Penske; and Ryan Blaney of Wood Brothers Racing.
WEEKEND RECAP: Busch bumped and passed his Joe Gibbs teammate Hamlin and then held off Truex Jr. during overtime to win Sunday’s wild First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway. The victory in the three-race Round of 8 segment opener provided Busch an automatic berth in the Nov. 19 championship finale at  Homestead-Miami Speedway. Busch was the benefactor of a chain of events where Elliott spun out Keselowski for the lead and then Hamlin did the same to Elliott when he was leading that led to the two-lap overtime. Busch nudged Hamlin for the lead and then outlasted a charging Truex Jr. on the final lap by .141 of a second as a wreck ensued behind them after crossing the finish line. Hamlin and Blaney got tangled up and that led to several cars being involved in the wreck as they passed the start/finish line. “I wanted to get a better restart, pinch Denny 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,” Busch said. “I got down (to the inside lane), and he got into Turn 3 and just pushed up the race track and I knew I had to plug that hole right away cause I was just going to get beat on from behind. So I got up in there and rooted him out of the way a little bit, and we drag-raced down the front straightaway and deep into (Turn) 1, 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 Truex off of (Turn) 4 back to the start/finish line.” Elliott, in search of his first career Cup win, didn’t take kindly to Hamlin’s move as he ran his car into Hamlin’s during the cool-down lap and then the two exited their cars and exchanged words over the incident. Harvick also had words with Blaney afterward. “I got punted from behind and wrecked in Turn 3 leading the race,” Elliott said. “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, and he comes over and talks to me a second ago and tells me he had somebody pushing him into Turn 3. I thought that was funny, because there was nobody within two car lengths of him into Turn 3 behind myself. 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.” Five playoff drivers in addition to Busch managed to finish among the top 10 with Truex Jr. (2nd), Keselowski (4th), Harvick (5th), Hamlin (7th) and Blaney (8th) collecting those. The two outside of the top 10 were Johnson (12th) and Elliott (27th).
HOW THEY STAND: With the win at Martinsville, Busch automatically secured a Championship 4 berth at Homestead. The top three in points are Truex Jr. (+67), Keselowski (+29) and Harvick (+3) followed by Johnson (-3), Blaney (-6), Hamlin (-8) and Elliott (-26). A victory in a Round of 8 race by a championship-contending driver automatically advances them to the Championship 4 and the remaining positions to advance are based off points earned in those three races.
UP NEXT: The second of three races in the Round of 8 segment will be Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (1 p.m. CT, TV: NBC Sports Network, Radio: PRN, SiriusXM, 95.9 The Ranch locally).
UPCOMING: The Round of 8 elimination race will be the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway (Sunday, Nov. 12, NBC). The Round of 8 segment determines which four drivers will head to the Ford Ecoboost 400 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 19, NBC) and vie for the series championship.
XFINITY SERIES AND NCWTS PLAYOFF UPDATE: The XFINITY Series was idle this past weekend, but the NASCAR Playoff action resumes with Saturday night’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. CT, TV: NBC Sports Network, Radio: PRN, SiriusXM, 95.9 The Ranch locally). It is the second of three races in the Round of 8 segment that determines which four drivers will vie for the XFINITY Series championship on Saturday, Nov. 18, at Homestead-Miami Speedway. JR Motorsports drivers currently hold the top three spots in the Round of 8 standings following the opener at Kansas. Justin Allgaier is the leader and is followed by William Byron and Elliott Sadler, respectively. …Rookie Noah Gragson overtook playoff contender Matt Crafton after a restart with 10 laps remaining and cruised to his first career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory in Saturday’s Texas Roadhouse 200 at Martinsville Speedway. Crafton finished second and Johnny Sauter third in the Round of 6 race to close the gap on championship leader Christopher Bell. Bell, who finished eighth, leads Sauter by three and Crafton by 15. Playoff drivers Ben Rhodes and Austin Cindric finished ninth and 10th, respectively. The only playoff driver not to finish among the top 10 was John Hunter Nemechek, who finished 30th in the 32-truck field due to an accident. Texas Motor Speedway will play host to the next Round of 6 race Friday evening with the JAG Metals 350 Driving Hurricane Harvey Relief (7 p.m. CT, TV: FOX Sports 1, Radio: MRN, SiriusXM Radio, 95.9 The Ranch locally).
Note-While the championship fields are reduced by virtue of elimination in each of the rounds, each race continues to have a full field competing.