MARTINSVILLE, Va. (WDBJ) On a blustery late October day, Dale Earnhardt, Junior made his final Martinsville start, rolling off 21st.
The Fords were dominant early in the race as Joey Logano started on the pole and led the first 52 laps, and teammate Brad Keselowski was stout as well, sweeping the first two stages of the First Data 500, earning some hard earned bonus points in the championship hunt.
But by 5pm, the lights had come on at the historic racetrack, and Keselowski had company in the form of Chase Elliott at lap 385. Those two swapped the lead twice and Keselowski was out front when Logano brought out the caution with 8 to go, spinning out thanks to a tire rub. That was the break that Elliott needed as he drove Keselowski up the racetrack off of turn 4 and appeared headed for his very first Cup Series win. Only Denny Hamlin had other ideas, plowing into Elliott on the ensuing lap, bringing out the caution again. Elliott wound up 27th after leading 123 laps and had some choice words for Hamlin before heading to the pits.
"All is fair in this deal," said Denny Hamlin, who finished 7th. "I didn't mean to wreck him. That's absolutely false to think I would try to wreck him. I tried to move him up the racetrack, the same as he moved the 2 up the racetrack. The difference is he was inside the 2. I was just behind him."
"It's just unnecessary," said Elliott. "These fans have been coming here a long time and they know when somebody gets wrecked and when somebody has a nice fight for the lead and that wasn't one."
Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch made a pass for the lead on the final circuit before Hamlin triggered a multi car mess on the frontstretch coming to the checkers. Hamlin's day ended with a bit of karma thrown his way with plenty of crinkled sheet metal. As for Busch he celebrated his second Martinsville win and fifth victory of the season, finishing ahead of Martin Truex, Jr., and putting him in prime position to make a run at his 2nd Cup Series Championship.
"It was a tough battle," said Busch. "It's crazy how Chase Elliott has come so close so many times to winning one of these things and it just kind of keeps sneaking away from him and it's late cations that's doing it. It's unfortunate but it's gonna be every man for himself and there's no feelings literally. When there is an opportunity that opens itself, even if the door's cracked a little bit, you are going to punch your way through it and get through there. We knew coming here when we tested here that we could run up front all day long and you never know what is going to happen at the end of these things and we took advantage of that today.
Busch's win denied Hendrick Motorsports a 6th consecutive win in the fall race here at Martinsville, and punched his ticket to Homestead as the series heads to Texas next weekend.