Alex Bowman steals victory at Martinsville

Six laps remained, and Denny Hamlin sat in the catbird seat. He held off Alex Bowman, who overtook him once for the lead, lap after lap for close to 20 laps.

Then came contact.

Bowman got loose into Turn 3, hit Hamlin and turned him into the wall.

“For anybody that wants to think I was trying to crash him, obviously wasn’t the case considering I literally gave up the lead at Martinsville to give it back to him,” he said. “He’s been on the other side of that. He’s crashed guys here for wins. I hate doing it. Obviously I don’t want to crash somebody. I just got in, got underneath him, spun him out.”

Bowman went on to score his sixth career NASCAR Cup Series victory, and fourth of the season.

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – OCTOBER 31: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, impedes Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, celebration after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 31, 2021, in Martinsville, Virginia. Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

Understandably upset, Hamlin slammed his brakes and pulled alongside him on the frontstretch to show his displeasure. Bowman pulls away and spins around. Then Hamlin pulled up to his nose and pressed the throttle.

“He’s just a hack,” Hamlin said, as the crowd booed him. “Just an absolute hack. He gets his ass kicked by his teammates every week. He’s fucking terrible. He’s just terrible. He sees one opportunity, he takes it. Obviously he’s got the fast car of the week and he runs 10th. He didn’t want to race us there. We had a good, clean race. I moved up as high as I could on the racetrack to give him all the room I could, he still can’t drive.”

Alex Bowman steals victory at Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – OCTOBER 31: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, reacts after the NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 31, 2021, in Martinsville, Virginia. Photo: Logan Riely/Getty Images

Ultimately, it made little impact on the championship picture. Hamlin, who finished 24th, joined Chase Elliott (16th), Kyle Larson (14th) and Martin Truex Jr. (fourth) in the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway.

Kyle Busch finished the day in second, but fell three points shy of making the Championship 4.

“We just missed last week,” he said. “That’s where we lost all the ground. Could have come in here with 15 more points, we would have been fine on the cut. Just wasn’t it. Wasn’t meant to be. Obviously it was Truex’s day. We had a Hail Mary opportunity there at the end. Just didn’t materialize.

“All in all, just proud of the effort for sure. We slung everything and anything at this thing today, couldn’t really make it come alive. Great effort. That was there for sure. We just got to get better, everybody included, the whole team, in order to be able to go race with the best and race for a championship. We’re not going to do that this year.”

Brad Keselowski’s podium finish left him eight points outside of the Championship 4.

Truex and William Byron rounded out the top-five.

Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch, Erik Jones, Chris Buescher and Joey Logano rounded out the top-10.

Alex Bowman steals victory at Martinsville

RACE SUMMARY

FIRST STAGE

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – OCTOBER 31: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, leads the field to the green flag to start the NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 31, 2021, in Martinsville, Virginia. Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

Larson led the field to green at 2:12 p.m. He led the first 56 laps, before Elliott overtook him into Turn 3 for the lead on Lap 57. During the competition caution, Hamlin was busted for speeding on pit road.

Back to green on Lap 68, Hamlin almost clipped the wall off Turn 4, as he swerved to avoid hitting a spinning Ryan Newman on Lap 72. Later, Larson pulled aside and let Elliott overtake him down the backstretch on Lap 86, who went on to win the first stage.

Larson exited the pits with the lead, but was busted for speeding and dropped to the rear of the field.

SECOND STAGE

Back to green on Lap 141, Elliott continued his run up front. After Austin Dillon slammed the wall on Lap 197, Martin Truex Jr. exited the pits with the race lead. On the ensuing restart, however, Elliott powered around him on the outside line, after a lap-and-a-half side-by-side battle, to retake the lead on Lap 206. He won the second stage, which locked him into the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway on points.

RUN TO THE FINISH

In typical Martinsville fashion, the caution count picked up in the final half of the race. After Newman’s hit on Lap 339, Joey Logano stayed out and assumed the race lead. On Lap 352, however, Elliott overtook him for the lead.

After Daniel Suarez spun off Turn 2 on Lap 379, Dillon opted not to pit and took over the lead. On the ensuing restart with 116 laps to go, he held off Truex for a lap, before ceding it with 114 laps to go. He edged out Hamlin at the line with 112 to go, but Hamlin overtook him into Turn 1 for the lead with 111 to go.

Alex Bowman steals victory at Martinsville

WHAT ELSE HAPPENED

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – OCTOBER 31: Ryan Newman, driver of the #6 Ford, spins after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 31, 2021, in Martinsville, Virginia. Photo: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

Newman spun in Turn 4 on Lap 72. Hamlin swerved outside to avoid him and almost clipped the outside wall.*

EDITORS NOTE: An earlier version of this story noted that Denny Hamlin clipped the outside wall.

“It was close,” he said. “It was closer than I certainly wanted to be for sure. Yeah, that’s the tough part. When you get back there, you’re not worried about really yourself causing an incident or whatever. Back there, those guys are fighting and bouncing off of each other. I mean, Lap 10, there’s door slamming. It’s just a different, different type of racing back there. You really try to just tread lightly as you can. I think one of them hooked the other one.

“That was the biggest concern I had, was just getting caught up or getting the grille knocked in early in the race.”

On Lap 93, Dillon pushed Blaney up the track in Turn 3. Which damaged the left-rear corner of Blaney’s car, as well as Dillon’s right-front corner of his nose. On Lap 197, the bead of his right-front tire melted and he slammed the wall in Turn 2.

After a run-in that brought out a caution on Lap 323, Quin Houff turned Josh Bilicki on the backstretch, right in front of a safety truck. Not happy with his actions, NASCAR held him on pit road for five laps.

Alex Bowman steals victory at Martinsville

NUTS AND BOLTS

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – OCTOBER 31: Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, is congratulated by Jeff Gordon, Vice Chairman of Hendrick Motorsports after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway on October 31, 2021, in Martinsville, Virginia. Photo: Logan Riely/Getty Images

The race lasted three hours, 42 minutes and 48 seconds, at an average speed of 70.968 mph. There were 15 lead changes among seven different drivers, and 15 cautions for 91 laps.

NASCAR crowns its champion in one week, at Phoenix Raceway.

TOP IMAGE: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images


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