After a physical battle with Denny Hamlin late in the Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, Alex Bowman, already eliminated from the playoffs, won the penultimate race of the 2021 Cup Series season.
The two drivers traded the lead back-and-forth in the final 25 laps, and Bowman, ultimately, took his race-winning lead when he spun Hamlin on lap 494 of the race that was scheduled for 500 laps but extended by an overtime restart following the Hamlin caution.
“He’s been on the other side of that. He’s crashed guys here for wins,” Bowman said of Hamlin. “I hate doing it. Obviously, I don’t want to crash somebody. I just got in, got underneath him, spun him out. Regardless, we get a free grandfather clock, which is pretty special. I struggled here for a long time. I was trying to get the flag, do a backwards victory lap. Mark Martin thinks that’s cool. Mark Martin is my hero. Obviously, like I said, hate we wrecked the 11. But how about that for Chevrolet, Ally, everybody on this 48 team. Fort-eight car won here a bunch. Cool to do it again.”
Hamlin finished 24th after starting in the back because of two pre-race inspection failures and a pit-road speeding penalty during a lap-60 competition caution. Needing to finish 26th or better to advance to the championship round in the season-finale at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 7, Hamlin will join his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. and Hendrick Motorsports duo Kyle Larson and reigning champion Chase Elliott in the title battle at Phoenix.
“He’s just a hack. Just an absolute hack,” Hamlin said of Bowman. “He gets his ass kicked by his teammates every week. He’s 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 race track to give him all the room I could; he still can’t drive.
Fellow-JGR driver Kyle Busch finished second at Martinsville but missed playoff advancement by three points to teammate Truex, who finished fourth on Sunday.
“We just missed last week,” Busch 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 also was eliminated by championship contention, despite a top-five race finish. He finished third. All three Team Penske drivers were eliminated from the playoffs. Keselowski’s teammates Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney finished 10th and 11th respectively.
“We gave it all we had. We just needed to be a little bit faster in stage two to get us a handful of points and be closer, and then, at the end, I was just too loose,” Keselowski said. “I just couldn’t quite get it perfectly tweaked in, but, all in all, a pretty good run.”
One of Bowman’s HMS teammates, William Byron, rounded out the top-five of the Xfinity 500 finishing order.
Elliott led over half of the race but wound up 16th after a spin as a result of contact from Keselowski on lap 455.
“Well, we’re moving on, and that is all that matters,” Elliott said. “I had a really fast NAPA Chevy early and I made a couple of mistakes and kind of led us down the wrong path there for those last couple of runs, unfortunately. But the pace was certainly in the car.”
“Congrats to Alex. It was a great day for Hendrick Motorsports; got two cars going to Phoenix and Alex getting the win here. Wish we could have won it. Hate to be so fast all day and it not work out, but obviously, next week is what matters and that is where our heads are at. Excited to get out there and have another shot at it.”
Larson finished 14th after two pit-road speeding penalties, the first during the caution that followed the first 130-lap stage.
“Just bad execution on my part on pit road,” Larson said. “I felt like our car was probably top-three, top-five, at times, and there were times it was 10th or worse. But my team did a good job working on it. I just sped too late in the race, there, again. From then on, just tried to not make anybody upset, knowing that I’m not going to get back up there for a win. Just try to keep everybody on my good side.”
Elliott already had lost the lead before his spin. Truex took the lead on lap 386 — a lead he lost to Hamlin on lap 389.
The Hendrick Motorsports duo of Elliott and Larson combined to lead the opening stage that was won by Elliott. The teammates started the race on the front row with Larson on the pole.
Larson led until giving up the top position to Elliott on lap 56. Larson, then, retook the lead by getting off pit road first during a lap-60 competition caution. Elliott passed Larson, again, to retake the lead on lap 85.
Elliott also won the second 130-lap stage after leading most of it. Truex led a few laps in stage two as the first race leader from outside the Hendrick Motorsports stable when he beat Elliott off pit road during a lap-197 caution for an Austin Dillon flat right-front tire. But Elliott retook the lead on lap 205.
For most of the remainder of stage two, Elliott had his other two HMS teammates, Bowman and Byron, with him up front.
Despite his penalties, Hamlin was inside the top-five of the running order by the end of stage two.
Elliott maintained his lead into the third and final 240-lap stage of the race while Busch became the third playoff driver to be assessed a pit-road speeding penalty during the caution that followed stage two.
Other top-10 finishers of the Xfinity 500 included Aric Almirola in sixth, Kurt Busch in seventh, Erik Jones in eighth, and Chris Buescher in ninth.
XFINITY 500 RESULTS