MARTINSVILLE, Va.—It all came down to the last turn of the last lap at Martinsville Speedway.
Chase Elliott won the Xfinity 500 to advance to the Championship 4 for the first time. Brad Keselowski crossed the line fourth—with a one point advantage over Kevin Harvick, who was 10th and needed to pass Kyle Busch to move on in a tiebreaker.
Coming out of Turn 4, Harvick punted Busch—and they both spun as Elliott started his victory celebration.
“Oh, my gosh,” said Elliott after his first Martinsville victory. “This is the biggest win ever for us. I’m just so proud to be able to be backed into a corner like that and have to win tonight. I feel like that’s what we’ve been missing these past four or five years and perform when we don’t have a choice. And, to do that tonight; we couldn’t ask for a better night. This is unreal.
“Thanks to the fans for coming out. They’re here and I love to see it! I’ve just got to catch my breath. This is just unbelievable. We’re going to Phoenix with a shot to win a championship and have a beautiful blue NAPA Camaro headed out there with a shot to win a title. What more could you ask for?”
Elliott joined Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Keselowski as the final four contenders as Harvick—by far the best driver throughout the season—fell eight points behind. He became the first regular-season champion not to defend the Cup title. Then again, it is 2020.
“Look, these championships aren’t like winning like Petty and Earnhardt used to win them,” Harvick said. “You have to put them together three weeks at a time and it comes down to one race and it came down to one race for us tonight and came up short."
Ryan Blaney finished 6.577-seconds behind Elliott, Logano, Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch and Matt DiBenedetto rounded out the top 10. Hamlin, who recovered a pit road faux pas finished 11th.
The first stage was slowed by four cautions—the most significant was Clint Bowyer spinning between Turns 1 and 2, the result of a tire rub gone bad. Hamlin won the first stage followed by Bowman, Keselowski, Elliott, Logano, Truex, Kyle Busch, William Byron, Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson.
Kurt Busch took a turn at the point but it was short-lived after Chris Buescher’s car overheated following damage to his radiator on Lap 147. After an extended caution for NASCAR to clean the fluid off the track, the race resumed with Busch at the point before Elliott passed the No. 1 at the start-finish line on Lap 162.
Harvick never had the desired speed to contend on Sunday, but his problems were exacerbated by a flat left rear tire on Lap 180 that dropped him from 24th to 31st. He would need nearly 200 laps to recover and return to the lead lap. Meanwhile, Elliott dominated the stage. The decision to pit on Lap 217 enabled Elliott to come through the field and win the second stage.
Hamlin, who finished third in the segment, was forced to pit with loose lug nuts and restarted 29th on Lap 268. By Lap 341, he returned to the top 15 and continued to work his way forward. NASCAR originally called a penalty on the No. 9 Hendrick team for too many men over the wall during the Lap 352 pit stops but rescinded it prior to the green flag. NASCAR explained the decision by issuing the following statement: "After further review, NASCAR determined that the Jackman re-established his position back to the service wall prior to servicing the penalty."
Logano took the lead on the Lap 354 restart. His teammate Blaney used his chrome horn to let Logano know he was there and made the pass for the lead out of Turn 2 on Lap 369.
Harvick finally moved around Bubba Wallace for 22nd—and the lucky dog position—on Lap 377. The No. 4 returned to the lead lap after James Davison stalled on the track to trigger the ninth caution on Lap 401. Logano took the lead out of the pits followed by Blaney and Keselowski—before NASCAR called a speeding penalty on the No. 2 Ford. He dropped to 22nd—one position behind Harvick—and the title contest was on.
Martin Truex Jr. passed Lognao on the restart and appeared to have a shot at the win. Truex was at the point for a 129 laps overall throughout the race. Elliott passed him on Lap 457. While running second, Truex reported a problem with 30 laps remaining. He pitted four laps later, dropped to 23rd and finished 22nd.
“We had a great car all day long and just kept making adjustments waiting for it to cool off and get dark,” Truex said. “That last run there before the final pit stop, the thing was on rails and it was perfect and we were driving away. I felt really good about it. Then we pitted and had a pretty good pit stop. Came out with the lead and right away I knew something was wrong. I was really, really tight and had a vibration. The 9 (Elliott) car passed us and we started dropping and had to pit for a loose wheel. Unfortunate. I think we should be the one in victory lane right now, but you have to do it all. Just a little mistake there.”
Over the final 25 laps, the battle was not for the lead but the fourth and final Championship 4 position. While Keselowski was able to knock off drivers one at a time, Harvick struggled to make up ground. On Lap 478, Keselowski passed Kurt Busch to move up to fifth and a two-point lead over the No. 4 team. But Harvick, the winningest driver of the season with nine victories, continued his charge.
As Elliott extended his lead—and picked up his fourth win of the season—Harvick went into desperation mode and punted the No. 18 Toyota coming out of Turn 4 on the last lap.
“We just weren’t good and everybody on our Mobil 1 Ford just kept battling to make it better and gave ourselves a shot there at the end," Harvick said. "I tried to drive into the door of the 18 to get that last point to make it and spun him out. I don’t usually drive like that, but you’re trying to make it to the Championship 4 and doing everything you can. Just came up short. Just not the night we needed.”
For Keselowski, who has been in Harvick’s shoes before, his ability to transfer to the final four for the second time was a relief.
“There was nothing I could do other than just pass as many cars as I could and look forward,” Keselowski said. “The last two runs, I don’t know if we were the best car, but we were close to it. Credit to Jeremy Bullins (crew chief) and the team. They just kept adjusting on it at the end and we got good when it counted.
“It was just frustrating because that pit road penalty I did not see it coming, to be honest with you.”
Elliott, who led five times for 236 laps, scored his 10th-career Cup win and became the first Chevrolet driver since Jimmie Johnson won the 2016 title to qualify for the final four.