MARTINSVILLE, Va. — There should be no confusion about the intensity of NASCAR’s playoffs after Sunday’s First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
Chase Elliott could have won. Same for Brad Keselowski, and Denny Hamlin, too.
It was Kyle Busch, though, who punched his ticket into NASCAR’s championship race with a victory in overtime of a Monster Energy Cup race that ended with a multicar accident after Busch took the checkered flag.
Busch moved Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Hamlin out of his way going into the final lap to earn a spot in next month’s championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the third consecutive year. He won the series title in 2015.
"We weren’t the best all day, but we put ourselves in the right spots there at the end," Busch said. "There was kind of chaos ensuing, and none of it was our fault. We just came out on the right end of the stick."
Keselowski was in position to win the opening race of the third round of the playoffs when Joey Logano developed a tire problem with about 10 laps remaining in regulation. Had his Team Penske teammate pitted under green to fix the tire, Keselowski likely would have coasted to the win and earned the spot in the finale.
Instead, Logano spun and brought out a caution.
Keselowski was moved out of the way by Elliott after a restart, and Hamlin then spun Elliott out of the lead with two laps remaining in regulation. Elliott wrecked, chased Hamlin down on the cool-down lap to show his displeasure, and the drivers had a heated exchange after they climbed from their cars.
It was a disastrous result for Elliott — from potential winner to 27th, the lowest finish of the eight remaining playoff drivers.
"My mom always said if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all," Elliott said. "(Hamlin is) not worth my time. I got punted from behind and wrecked in Turn 3 leading the race. I don’t know what his problem was. It was unnecessary, and I hadn’t raced him dirty all day long.’’
Elliott could repeatedly be seen saying "You wrecked me’’ to Hamlin. Hamlin at first defended his actions but later apologized to Elliott on social media. Hamlin faded to seventh after Busch bumped him for the win.
Keselowski wound up fourth.
Cup points leader Martin Truex Jr. wound up second in a 1-2 sweep for Toyota.
FORMULA ONE: Lewis Hamilton won his fourth career season championship with a ninth-place finish at the Mexican Grand Prix in a race won by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen at Mexico City. Hamilton had to overcome first-lap chaos when his Mercedes was bumped by Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari and both cars went in for repairs. Vettel finished fourth in the race but had to win or finish second to keep Hamilton from clinching the title. "This was a championship I was hoping for where you are fighting another team," Hamilton said. "It’s been great to get Ferrari back in the front." Hamilton’s championship makes him the most decorated British driver in series history, passing Jackie Stewart.
NHRA: Terry McMillen earned his first career Top Fuel victory with a winning pass of 3.870-seconds at 253.99 mph after Brittany Force got a red-light foul in her run at the Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas. Other winners were Matt Hagan (3.942 at 329.42) in Funny Car, Greg Anderson (6.698 at 204.70) in Pro Stock and Eddie Krawiec (6.924 at 193.16) in Pro Stock Motorcycle.