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NASCAR at Martinsville: Elliott wins his way into the Cup finale; H. Burton wins Xfinity; Enfinger’s win in Trucks advances him to Phoenix

NASCAR Cup Series Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway

• Elliott’s win advances him while Harvick’s troubled race knocks him out of the championship race

Martinsville, VA, Nov 1/20 (GRW): This 500 at Martinsville may not be such a long race, its 500 laps only add up to 250 miles – but today’s race seemed like an eternity as the eight championship playoff contenders fought it out in hopes of qualifying for the Championship 4 contesting the title next week in the finale at Phoenix.

In the end, Chase Elliott, who was 25 points below the cut line going into Martinsville, won the race and thereby qualified for the Championship 4. Adding Elliott to the top four meant that one of the drivers who had been above the cut line had to be dropped. It turned out to be Kevin Harvick; who would have guessed?

PHOTO NCS MS Clock 110120Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the Xfinity 500 (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

“Oh my gosh, the biggest win ever for us,” Elliott said after the race. “Just so proud. … Couldn’t ask for a better night. It’s unreal.”

Kevin Harvick, who had seemed to be a sure thing for the finale, if not the final title, had a miserable day. His car was not performing well and then, while mixing it up mid-field, he got together with another car and cut down a tire. He had to pit under green to replace the tire and by the time he came out again he was two laps down on the leader – and way down in the championship points standings.

With either Elliott or Martin Truex, another championship hopeful below the cut line, leading the race, Harvick was dropped below the cut line – below Brad Keselowski. His chances of advancing looked to be improved when Keselowski had his own bad moment – he was penalized for speeding out of the pit lane on during the 11th caution which came on lap 401.

This penalty dropped Keselowski back to 12th place just ahead of Harvick but Keselowski had a bit more speed and he started making up positions and staying ahead of Harvick. For the rest of the race, the points standings of these two varied up and down, with Harvick sometimes a point or two ahead of Keselowski but most of the time it was Keselowski above the cut line by a point or two.

As the laps counted down, Denny Hamlin was falling back out of the top ten – and it became a battle between these three to see which one of them would end up below the cut line and be eliminated – always assuming that Elliott was going to keep going in the lead and win the race.

Meanwhile, Truex, who had led for 129 laps, was in trouble late in the race. He had a loose wheel and he had to make a pit stop to replace it, ending any hopes that he might qualify for the transfer by winning the race.

On the final lap, it looked like Keselowski and Hamlin would qualify for the transfer by a single point over Harvick. If Hamlin could gain one position more he would be tied and his better race results previously in the current Round of 9 would break the tie in his favour. With this in mind he made a hail Mary move off the final turn, deliberately spinning Kyle Busch – but Busch did a 360 spin and kept going while Harvick slid to a stop. He did get going again but he crossed the line in 17th place, out of the championship chase.

The last time I saw Harvick deliberately spin out a competitor, NASCAR penalized him by banning him for his next race. For that matter, I remember when Kyle Busch was penalized for deliberately crashing another competitor. This time, I will be surprised if NASCAR even comments on Harvick’s blatant crashing of Busch.

This all left the Championship 4 roster going into Phoenix as: Logano, Elliott, Hamlin and Keselowski.

Given that NASCAR has designed their playoff system to focus all the attention on the knockout elimination aspect of the playoff series races, there was not much else worth commenting on.

The final race finishing order was Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Keselowski and Kurt Busch.

• Click HERE for the results of the Martinsville Cup race.

• The next NASCAR Cup race will be the season finale to determine the champion driver next Sunday, November 8 at Phoenix.

PHOTO NXS MS Burton 103120Harrison Burton leading Brandon Jones and Ross Chastain during the Draft Top 250 (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

NASCAR Xfinity Series Draft Top 250 at Martinsville Speedway
• Two in a row for Harrison Burton; no upsets among the championship hopefuls

Martinsville, VA, Oct 31/20 (GRW): It had been a long time since the Xfinity Series (as it is known today) had raced here at Martinsville. Since 1994, it had only come here once, in 2006. This year, the race schedule had been reshuffled and this half-mile ‘hairpin’ of a short track came onto the calendar as the penultimate race of the Xfinity season. Given its position in the calendar it was bound to be an event significant in the way the championship would be won.

As it turned out, Harrison Burton, a rookie driver in this series, who had already won three times this year but who had failed to qualify for the playoffs, won here, his second win in a row. Meanwhile, the order among those hoping to advance did not change. Chase Briscoe was in with his win at Kansas. The other three who will advance to the Championship 4 to fight it out for the title at Phoenix are Austin Cindric, Justin Allgaier and Justin Haley, all four driving for different teams.

In the first 60-lap Stage of the 200-lap race, championship hopeful Noah Gragson, who would need to win here to make it into the Championship 4, took the lead on lap 43 and won the Stage. Things were looking hopeful for him but he only led one more time and that for just two laps early in the second Stage. Ross Chastain, another championship hopeful, took over and led late in the second Stage, winning it on lap 120.

The order was shuffled after this round of pit stops, about 13 cars not pitting at this time and leapfrogging ahead of the recent race leaders, dropping Chastain to 14th for the restart – a case of gaining Stage-end points but sacrificing track position as a result. As it turned out, the decision to pit ahead of the Stage-end was the better strategy – it paid off for Burton.

In this new race order, A.J. Allmendinger and Burton were leading the pack for the restart.

Now with over 100 laps remaining, the former leaders had to try to regain the front of the field. Allmendinger took the lead over Burton and he led most of the next 73 laps until he had a flat tire and had to pit, falling out of contention. This handed the lead over to Burton who led the remaining 53 laps, including one caution, to win the race. Allgaier had been in hot pursuit those 53 laps but he had to settle for second, 0.355 seconds behind Burton.

As for those who had chosen the alternate pit stop strategy, Gragson made it up to third at the finish and Chastain was fifth – close, but no cigar.

Harrison Burton became the youngest driver to ever win a Busch/Xfinity race here displacing his father from that particular title on the basis of his win here in 1990.

• Click HERE for the results of this Xfinity Series race.

• The next race will be the championship finale at Phoenix next Saturday, November 7th.

PHOTO NGROTS MS Restart 103020Matt Crafton and Stewart Friesen race on the restart after the fourth caution during the NASCAR Hall of Fame 200 (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images) 

NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series NASCAR Hall of Fame 200 at Martinsville Speedway
• Enfinger turns his luck by winning and he bumps up into the Championship 4

Martinsville, VA, Oct 30/20 (GRW): Given that this Truck Series race was the final race in the three-race ‘Round of 8' elimination series, four of the eight playoff drivers were not going to advance to the Championship 4 in the finale in Phoenix a week later. And, for the four drivers at the bottom of the list – Matt Crafton, Grant Enfinger, Ben Rhodes and Tyler Ankrum – they had little chance of improving their points standings enough to displace one of the top four – unless they could win here. Sheldon Creed and Brett Moffitt were already locked in by virtue of wins in this round, so only Zane Smith and Austin Hill were in jeopardy.

But bad luck for Hill, who DNF’d and lost a pile of points, and good luck for Grant Enfinger, who squeaked out a win, leading the final two laps, shuffling up into the top four ranking. Enfinger’s win automatically advanced him to Phoenix while pushing Hill down out of the top four costing him his chance to advance.

Even without the drama of whether Enfinger would or would not win the race, there was a lot happening here on Friday night.

The rookie driver Zane Smith, who had never raced here before, started on the front row and he led for the first 11 laps – a remarkable feat given that his first laps here were only after the starter dropped the green flag to start the race.

After that Sheldon Creed, who had won the first race in this ‘Round of 8', got past him and took over the lead – leading the next 64 laps, winning the first Stage over Matt Crafton, who was hoping a win here would advance him to the Phoenix Championship 4.

Creed continued to lead after the restart to begin racing in the second Stage but, only a few laps later, he had to pit to replace a flat tire, falling a couple of laps down. He continued to battle and by the end of the race he was back on the lead lap finishing in eighth place, but that was of no real consequence given that he had already qualified for the finale.

Stewart Friesen, who has struggled a bit this year, was having a good run here. He was up into tenth when the racing began in the second Stage and, after the next caution, which came on lap 79, he took the restart in third place. After another quick yellow, he restarted in the front row alongside the then race leader Crafton – and he managed to get ahead just in time to win the second Stage. Meanwhile, the other Canadian, Rapheal Lessard, was moving forward and he finished the Stage in fourth place just behind Enfinger.

Differing pit stop strategies saw those who were leading coming into the end of the second Stage, falling far back in the order behind those who had instead pitted during the previous caution.

Soon after this restart, Hill, whose engine had been giving up the ghost, retired. This was a big blow for his hopes of advancing to Phoenix but, he had a good points cushion and he still had some hope that his points balance might see him through. And this would have worked for him, had not Enfinger won the race and leapfrogged over all those ahead of him in points – pushing Hill down out of the top four championship contenders. A sad day for the regular season champion who had two wins during the season.

Now the order at the front was Enfinger and Lessard, one-two, and Lessard had shown grit passing Creed on his way to the front. Another yellow (#6) saw Lessard lining up in third place behind Johnny Sauter and Enfinger.

Six laps under green and there was another yellow (#7) and Lessard lost ground in the pits but he was back up to sixth coming off the eighth caution. Things were getting scrappy at the front, given that a win or not might have big playoff consequences. Another yellow (#9) and Lessard was lined up for the restart in second place alongside Enfinger. On the restart, he nosed out into the lead and led the next ten laps until the next caution (#10). He took this restart in the front row alongside Moffitt with Enfinger and Ben Rhodes (who also had a chance to advance if he were to win here) in the second row.

With so much on the line for the two behind him, it was little wonder that, on the restart these two jammed up into Lessard in an effort to get past him. Both Lessard and Moffitt were knocked aside bringing out the final caution. Moffitt’s truck was wrecked but Lessard was able to get going again – and he finished in 20th place, one lap down.

On this final restart with just two laps to go, Enfinger and Rhodes started side-by-side on the front row. Enfinger pushed ahead of Rhodes and held on to take the checker. Smith had kept his nose clean despite his inexperience here and he finished in third place.

“It was tough, we knew we were going to have to take our gloves off and fight for this one,” Enfinger said after celebrating. “It’s been an up-and-down season for us, but we tended to peak when we needed to. And now I feel really good about our chances at Phoenix.”

All this left the Championship 4 who would advance to the finale next week in Phoenix as Moffitt, Creed, Enfinger, and Smith.

• Click HERE for the results of the Truck Series race at Martinsville

• The next race will be the finale at Phoenix next Friday, November 6th.

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