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Race Report: Martinsville, Eliminator 8 Round One

Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin opened the NASCAR Chase for the Championship Eliminator Round of 8 with sixth and eighth-place finishes respectively in today’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch raced solidly inside the top ten all day before finishing 11th.

Kenseth qualified the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota in the third position and was able to race his way into second through the early going. Kenseth was running fifth at lap 100 and he remained in the top five and was back up to second for a restart just past the 200-lap mark. He was running sixth following a lap 226 restart when he got loose and the Dollar General Camry jumped to the outside making contact with the No. 4 car which sent both vehicles spinning into the outside wall. The 20 team worked hard on pit road to keep Kenseth on the lead lap while making repairs to the body of the car. He would restart 28th on lap 240 and was up to 25th at the halfway mark. He would stay out under the next caution to gain track position and restarted fourth on lap 260. Restarting on the outside lane with old tires proved difficult and he would drop back outside the top 10 before the next caution. A caution on lap 277 would allow Kenseth to come down pit road for fresh tires and he restarted 29th on lap 283. Several cautions shuffled the field with various pit strategies at play and he would run 16th with just under 200 laps to go. Kenseth would climb his way back through the field on the next run and was running 11th by lap 345. After losing several spots on a long green flag run, he would line up 19th for a restart following a round of pit stops under caution on lap 390. He would line up 12th for a restart with 68 laps to go after another round of pit stops under caution. Kenseth patiently attempted to work his way back toward the front. A late caution would bring him down pit road one final time for a two-tire change and fortunately for the 20 team he would have the opportunity to restart on the bottom lane which had proven advantageous all afternoon. Kenseth was able to gain three spots from ninth and earn a solid sixth-place finish in the opening round of the three-race Eliminator Round.

Hamlin started his No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota from the fifth position and was able to race his way into third through the early portion of the race. He would remain inside the top ten over the first 100 laps and drove his way up to seventh by lap 120. Hamlin would work his way back inside the top five for a restart just past the 200-lap mark and was running second at the halfway mark. A great pit stop by the FedEx team on lap 257 would allow the 11 to come off pit road first, but he would line up sixth for the restart when several other teams elected not to pit. He would drive up to second before the next caution on lap 277. Shortly after the restart he would drive by the 22 to take his first lead of the day on lap 290. He would give up the lead to pit under caution and the FedEx crew got him off pit road first but many others remained out leaving him to restart 17th. He would make an impressive run through the field to race third by lap 330, regained second on lap 350 and earned his way back to the front on lap 360. On the day he would lead twice for a total of 68 laps. A caution would bring the field back down pit road and Hamlin would remain the leader following a four-tire stop on lap 390. He would hold the lead over the next green flag run and came down pit road for four tires with 80 laps to go. Hamlin would line up fourth for the restart with 72 laps remaining. A late-race caution would bring Hamlin down pit road one final time as the team made the decision for a two-tire stop. Several teams elected not to pit which jumbled the lineup once more. Unfortunately Hamlin had to line up on the outside lane, which was slow to restart all day long and then was trapped by those in front of him that were on the older tires. He would go on to finish eighth.

Busch started the No. 18 M&Ms Halloween Toyota from the eighth position and was able to race his way into the top five through the early portion of the race. He would run third at lap 125. The M&Ms Camry would remain in the top ten and restarted ninth on lap 215. A caution would follow shortly after that restart and Busch would be the first to pit from the 10th position. He would restart 17th on lap 226 and was running 13th at the midpoint of the race. He would stay out on the track following a lap 277 pit stop to restart fifth. More cautions shuffled the field with several different strategies at play and Busch was back outside the top 15 at lap 300. He would drive his way back into the top ten and was running seventh by lap 340. He would drop back to run 10th by lap 360. Busch would bring the M&Ms Camry back down pit road on lap 390 while under caution and lined up 15th for the restart. He would come back down pit road with 80 to go and lined up 10th for the restart. A late caution would shuffle the field one last time with several teams electing to remain out on track while others, including Busch and his teammates came down for tires. Busch managed to pilot his M&Ms Halloween Camry to an 11th-place finish over the final five-lap shootout to the checkered flag.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. won the race followed by Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Tony Stewart, and Joey Logano rounded out the top five. There were 15 cautions for a total of 105 laps and 24 lead changes among 11 different drivers.

Today’s race was the first of three races in the Eliminator Round of 8 under the new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase for the Championship format. Earnhardt did not qualify for the Eliminator Round and his victory today means there can only be a maximum of two automatic qualifiers for the Championship Round of four which will compete at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the season finale. Kenseth is currently fourth in those standings just five points behind the leader Jeff Gordon, while Hamlin is just outside of the cut-off line in fifth, but only seven points out of the lead.

Round two of the Eliminator Round will be next Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. Live coverage from Texas will begin on ESPN Sunday, November 2 at 2 PM ET (race begins at 3 PM ET). The race will also be carried on Sirius NASCAR radio channel 90.

Darrell Wallace, Jr. Wins at Martinsville Speedway

Race Highlights

  • Returning to the site of his first-career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) win, Darrell Wallace, Jr. entered the weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway looking to defend his 2013 win of the Kroger 200, piloting the No. 34 (54) 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Wendell Scott Toyota Tundra.
  • With a fast Toyota Tundra from the time the team unloaded, Wallace secured his second pole of the season to lead the 36-truck field to the green-flag Saturday afternoon in Martinsville, Virginia.
  • Solidifying his place at the front of the field, Wallace maintained his position in the top five for the majority of race, slipping to ninth at the halfway mark during a round of pit stops.
  • Reporting to the team throughout the race that he had a good, solid Toyota Tundra, Wallace was able to lead the race for a total of four times for a race high of 97 laps.
  • When the checkered flag waved after 200 action-packed laps around the half-mile Martinsville Speedway, Wallace and the No. 34 (54) 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Wendell Scott Tribute Toyota Tundra team emerged victorious for Wallace’s fourth-career NCWTS win and third win of the season.
  • Wallace was followed across the finish line by Timothy Peters, Matt Crafton, Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney.

Darrell Wallace, Jr.’s Post-Race Thoughts:

“This win is a touch sweeter having the tribute truck — the No. 34 Wendell Scott Hall of Fame inductee on our Toyota Tundra — you couldn’t ask for a better weekend. I continue to say that. Qualified on the pole, had a great clean race for the most part and we were able to come away with another clock. Having the Wendell Scott family here, having my family here, having my Mom here, my girlfriend here and getting them their first win — this is special. Special for myself, my family, my team, sponsors and everybody involved. The whole sport of NASCAR — this is a big moment and excited to see what the future holds.”

Race Report: Talladega, Final Contender 12 Race

It was the race that had been discussed since the new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase format was announced. Today’s Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, a track known for its hold your breath style of racing and large accidents, represented the cut-off race of the second round with only the top eight teams advancing into the Eliminator Round.

Joe Gibbs Racing entered the day with all three teams still competing for a spot in the final eight. Kyle Busch was second in points entering the day but contact from behind on lap 103 sent him hard into the wall and although his M&Ms team worked valiantly to put him back out on the track he finished 40th and narrowly missed the cutoff. Teammates Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin managed to avoid any major accidents and finished second and 18th respectively to advance into the Eliminator round of eight.

Kenseth qualified the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota in the 13th position but an engine change resulted in having to drop to the back of the field for the start of the race. Kenseth was content running toward the back of the field through the early portion of the race but eventually moved toward the front of the field and managed to lead lap 63 to pick up an important bonus point. The Home Depot Camry would move toward the back of the field once again following a lap 103 caution for an accident that claimed his teammate Kyle Busch among several others. A restart with nine laps to go allowed Kenseth to move forward and he was quickly racing in the top ten while driving in the middle lane of a three wide situation before a caution for debris came out with five to go. He would line up 11th for a green-white-checkered finish. A wreck behind him would bring out another caution and he was eighth for the restart on a second attempt at the green-white-checkered finish. He would drive his way up to finish second and claim his spot into the next round.

Hamlin started his No. 11 FedEx One Rate Deliverminator Toyota from the 38th position was largely content to race at the back of the field through the early going. Hamlin would find an opening to make his way to the front of the field about 30 laps into the race and he claimed the lead on lap 39. He managed to avoid the day’s first two accidents including one major wreck on lap 103 that claimed his teammate Kyle Busch. When the race restarted a few laps later Hamlin made the decision to once again move to the back of the field in an attempt to clear any wrecks in front of him. A restart with nine to go saw Hamlin racing just inside the top 30 before a caution came out with five to go. He would line up 25th for a green-white-checkered finish. A wreck set up a second GWC finish and this time he lined up in 20th. He would go on to finish 18th and secure his position into the Eliminator round of eight.

Busch started the No. 18 M&Ms Halloween Toyota from the 41st position and was content running toward the back of the field in hopes of avoiding the big accident. It appeared that strategy would pay off when Busch managed to avoid any major damage in the day’s first accident on lap 61. The No. 18 Camry would get minor damage to the nose of his car but the M&Ms crew would make the necessary repairs on pit road and Busch remained on the lead lap. Unfortunately Busch wasn’t as fortunate on lap 103 when several cars spun in front of the M&Ms Toyota. He was well back of the initial wreck and slowed to avoid the spinning cars in front of him, but the 3 car hit Busch hard from behind and sent him spinning into the inside wall. The wreck caused major damage to the No. 18 but he managed to drive straight to the garage where the M&Ms team went to work in hopes of getting him back out on the track to make up enough points to secure his spot in the next round of the Chase. A tremendous team effort put Busch and the M&Ms Halloween Camry back on the track with 36 laps remaining. The valiant effort nearly paid off, but unfortunately Busch narrowly missed the cutoff and was eliminated from the Chase. The margin was so narrow that Busch was actually just one point out of the eighth position for the restart on a second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish, but the win by the 2 car took away his opportunity to advance.

Brad Keselowski won the race followed by Kenseth, Clint Bowyer, Landon Cassill, and Ryan Newman rounded out the top five. There were six cautions for a total of 25 laps and 38 lead changes among 19 different drivers.

The points once again reset with Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth advancing into the Eliminator round of eight in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. Ultimately four teams will advance into the Championship round at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The Eliminator Round of 8 under the new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship format will start next Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. Live coverage from Martinsville will begin on ESPN Sunday, October 26 at 1 PM ET (race begins at 2 PM ET). The race will also be carried on Sirius NASCAR radio channel 90.

Race Report: Charlotte

Kyle Busch led Joe Gibbs Racing with a fifth-place finish in tonight’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Meanwhile his teammates Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth finished ninth and 19th respectively in the second of three races in the Contender Round of 12 in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Series Championship.

Busch started the No. 18 Doublemint Toyota on the pole and led the opening 13 laps of the race. A competition caution on lap 25 would bring him down pit road and he restarted second. Busch would reclaim the lead after the restart for another 10 laps or so, but gave way to the 24 once again as he raced patiently through the early going of the 500-mile race. The handling on his Doublemint Camry would change several times over the course of the night, but Busch managed to maintain a spot in the top ten. He would restart in the top spot following a great pit stop by his Doublemint crew with just under 100 laps remaining. He would give up the top spot on the longer runs, but Busch was back out front for a lap 250 restart. He was running seventh late in the race following a round of green flag pit stops. Another late caution would set up a green-white-checker finish and Busch managed to drive his way up to earn a fifth-place finish.

Hamlin started his No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota from the third position and settled in to run fourth through the opening 25 laps prior to a competition caution. Early strategies on pit road with several teams taking two tires left Hamlin to restart back a few spots and he would run just outside the top ten on the next green flag run. Hamlin would remain patient while crew chief Darian Grubb and the FedEx crew made adjustments to help him with a car that was tight through the center of turns, but loose exiting the turns. Those adjustments appeared to be paying off over the course of the race as Hamlin drove into the top 10. A great two-tire stop would put Hamlin out second for a restart on lap 272 and he quickly took advantage by moving to the point and leading the next 22 laps. The 4 car would take over the lead with 41 laps to go, but Hamlin would cycle through a final round of green flag stops in the third position. A late caution would set up a green-white-checker finish and the FedEx Camry would get contact from behind that shuffled him back to finish ninth.

Kenseth qualified the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota in the 22nd position but was forced to start in the back of the field when NASCAR ruled there was an unapproved adjustment on pit road. The setback didn’t deter the 20 team however as Kenseth raced his way into 28th on the opening green flag run prior to a competition caution on lap 25. He would work his way into the top 25 on the ensuing run. Kenseth would continue to slowly make his way toward the top 20, but mostly tight handling conditions would hamper additional progress. The Dollar General Camry would fall a lap off the pace on lap 206, but the team fought back and Kenseth raced his way into the lucky dog position to get back on the lead lap. He would come down pit road for a two-tire stop that gave him track position and he lined up fourth for a lap 272 restart. Kenseth would drive up high on the track in an attempt to improve his position but the 2 car moved in front of him causing the No. 20 Camry to hit the wall. He was able to keep the car on the lead lap, but damage to the right front of the car caused him to drift back in the field. Kenseth would go on to finish 19th.

Kevin Harvick won the race followed by Jeff Gordon, Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano, and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five. There were eight cautions for a total of 39 laps and 32 lead changes among 14 different drivers.

Kyle Busch is second in the current point standings in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. Busch is only six points out of the top spot, while Hamlin is seventh and Kenseth is in ninth. The field will be trimmed to the Eliminator Round of 8 following next weekend’s battle at Talladega Superspeedway. Logano and Harvick automatically advance courtesy of their respective wins last week in Kansas and tonight in Charlotte respectively. Busch is 27 points in front of the cut off and Hamlin is 17 points to good, while Kenseth is just one point out of the eighth and final spot. Ultimately a final Championship 4 will race for the Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship will be at Talladega Superspeedway for the final race of the Contender round under the new Chase format. Live coverage from Talladega will begin on ESPN Sunday, October 19 at 1 PM ET (race begins at 2 PM ET). The race will also be carried on Sirius NASCAR radio channel 90.

Race Report: Kansas

Kyle Busch led Joe Gibbs Racing with a third-place finish in today’s first race of the second round of The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. Meanwhile teammates Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth finished seventh and 13th respectively in this afternoon’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Busch started the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota in seventh position and maintained a position just inside the top ten through the early going of this afternoon’s race. He would pit following a lap-71 caution and his M&Ms crew would gain him two spots to restart eighth on lap 75. Busch was hit with a speeding penalty while exiting pit road on lap 123 and the pass through penalty would leave him back in 22nd for a restart on lap 127. He would patiently gain ground on the leaders and was running 18th on lap 131. Busch continued to gain ground and was running 11th with just over 100 laps remaining. He would line up eighth for a restart with 73 laps remaining following a four-tire stop and managed to gain two spots to run sixth. He would take over the fifth position with 46 laps to go. A great two-tire stop following a lap 228 caution would give Busch the second position on the restart with 33 to go. Busch would drop two spots before another caution quickly followed. This time Busch would take advantage of restarting on the outside with 28 to go and jumped into the second position. He took the checkered flag in third to earn his first ever top-five finish in Kansas.

Hamlin started his No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota from 25th position and was patient early in the race while battling a loose handling car. He was running 22nd on lap 53 following the first round of green flag pit stops but the adjustments appeared to help the car turn better and Hamlin was able to drive his way into the top 20 and ran 15th on lap 71. He would restart 13th on lap 75. He would enter the top 10 and lined up eighth for a restart on lap 127. Hamlin would report smoke coming from the dash shortly after the restart but turning off the fans appeared to alleviate the problem and he managed to keep the FedEx Camry just outside the top 10. He would return to the top ten and was running seventh shortly after a restart with 100 laps to go. He would line up 12th following a four-tire stop with 73 laps remaining. Hamlin would drop two spots on the restart when the outside line couldn’t get going and he settled in to race in 14th. He would slowly work his way toward the top ten again and was running 11th with 50 to go and re-entered the top 10 on lap 224. A caution on lap 228 would bring the leaders down pit road and a great two-tire stop would place him third for the restart with 33 to go. Hamlin would get stuck on the bottom line however and dropped back to seventh before another caution. He would hold his position through the next restart and ran seventh to the finish.

Kenseth started his No. 20 Dollar General Toyota in the 27th position but was able to patiently race his way inside the top 20. He was racing 20th on lap 25 and following a round of green flag pit stops Kenseth cycled through in 13th on lap 53. He would line up 12th for restart on lap 75. The field would get bunched up in front of Kenseth on the restart and the No. 20 Camry would make contact with a car in front of him causing a small crack just above the headlight on the right side of the car. Kenseth would ride it out and held the 13th position at the 100-lap mark. However as the green flag run continued the crack became larger causing handling issues to his Dollar General Camry and Kenseth would drop back to run 18th. A caution would allow him to come down pit road on lap 123. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff would call for an extended pit stop to give the Dollar General crew ample time to make the necessary repairs. Kenseth would restart 19th on lap 127. The No. 20 Camry was back up to 13th following a restart with just over 100 laps to go. Following a four-tire pit stop he would line up in 11th for a restart with 73 laps remaining and managed to work his way up to run eighth as the race went past lap 200. With just over 50 laps to go Kenseth would radio in that he felt he might have a tire going down and he came down pit road from the 10th position with 47 laps remaining. The Dollar General team was hoping the race would remain green so he could cycle back in after the other leaders made their final stop, but unfortunately a caution would come out on lap 228. That forced Kenseth to take the wave around to get back on the lead lap and he would restart 22nd on lap 234. He would gain two spots before another caution followed and Ratcliff made the call to bring the Dollar General back down pit road for four fresh tires. He would restart 20th with 28 to go and was up to 15th just eight laps later. Kenseth would gain two more spots over the final laps to finish 13th.

Joey Logano won the race followed by Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex, Jr. and Carl Edwards rounded out the top five. There were eight cautions for a total of 34 laps and 25 lead changes among nine different drivers.

The point standings reset prior to today’s race. After round one it is Busch holding down the second position in the standings, while Hamlin is currently fifth and Kenseth seventh. There are two more races before the field is narrowed again to the Eliminator 8 round following the race at Talladega Superspeedway. Logano automatically advances courtesy of today’s win. Ultimately a final Championship 4 will race for the Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

It will be a homecoming of sorts next weekend, when the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship returns to Charlotte and Charlotte Motor Speedway for the second race of the Contender round under the new Chase format. Live coverage from Charlotte will begin on ABC Saturday, October 11 at 7 PM ET (race begins at 7:30 PM ET). The race will also be carried on Sirius NASCAR radio channel 90.