First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway Recap

in sports •  last year 

"NASCAR racing at its finest." - Joey Logano

Joey Logano bumps Martin Truex Jr. out of the way on the final turn to win the First Data 500 at Martinsville

Few things in NASCAR are more contentious than short track racing. Add a shot to qualify for the championship race in Homestead and things can get down-right ugly. Joey Logano bumped Martin Truex Jr. out of the way in Turn 4 of the final lap to win the First Data 500 and claim one of the final four spots in the NASCAR Cup Series Championship race at Homestead next month.

"It was a lot of bumper banging towards the end and a hard race," said Logano. "You know, we didn’t wreck each other. We bumped into each other a lot and that is what this sport was built on. I know a lot of fans out there aren’t too happy about it but it is racing and that is what NASCAR is about and what stock car racing is."

While a lot of fans weren't happy about the finish, Truex was downright furious.

"He may have won the battle, but he ain’t winning the damn war,” said Truex. "That’s it. I’m not letting him – I’m going to win the championship …"

Logano was the car to beat for most of the day as he led 309 of 500 laps, but as the race moved towards the finish he faced many challengers. His Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski battled him for the lead, closely followed by Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. Keselowski, who has been eliminated from the playoffs, was obviously not told to give in to Logano as the two battled side-by-side for multiple laps before Logano finally pulled away.

Logano wasn't in the clear however as Truex quickly passed Keselowski and took over the battle for first place with ten laps remaining. The two drivers raced side-by-side and bumper-to-bumper as Truex had the faster car, but Logano had the best position. Truex finally made the pass entering the final lap and looked like he was going to win his first short track race before Logano bumped him from behind in Turn 4 with the checkered flag in sight.

Both drivers lost control of their car, but as Truex headed for the wall Logano was able straighten out enough to slide across the finish line for the win. Denny Hamlin took advantage of the chaos to sneak around Truex to claim second place. Truex limped across the finish line in third place. Truex didn't waste any time letting everyone know how he felt about the finish as he gave Logano a hard bump on the cool down lap.

"I was next to him for six laps," said Truex. "I never knocked him out of the way. We were going to race hard for it in my book. I cleared him fair and square. We weren’t even banging doors for me to pass him. He just drove into the back of me and knocked me out of the way. That’s short track racing, but what goes around comes around."

Logano understood Truex's anger after the race, but was not going to apologize for punching his ticket to the championship finale.

"He raced really clean, and I laid the bumper to him, so I don’t expect him to be happy," said Logano. "We had to do what we’ve got to do, and maybe there’s something he’s got to do, and we’ll hash it out, I’m sure, one way or another. But that was our shot. It may be our only shot, so we had to make it happen."

Hamlin had the best seat in the house to watch the battle for first and he wasn't surprised how it unfolded. Probably because he did the same thing to Chase Elliott in this race last year.

"I knew it was coming," said Hamlin. "Everyone probably saw it was coming. I just think it would have been still a cool battle if they would have just stayed side by side. I think the 22 (Logano) thought he wasn’t going to win that way."

Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski round out the top-five. Denny Hamlin was the winner of Stage One while Joey Logano took the checkered green for Stage Two. Each driver earned a bonus point for the Stage win, but the points are both in vain. Hamlin has already been eliminated from the playoffs and Logano has advanced to the winner-takes-all championship race at Homestead.

Click here for full race results.

The First Data 500 was the first race in the third and final elimination round of the NASCAR playoffs. At the conclusion of this round the field will be cut from eight to four and the final four drivers will compete in a winner-takes-all race at Homestead to determine the 2018 NASCAR Cup Series Champion.

By winning Sunday's race Joey Logano is guaranteed a spot in the championship race. That leaves seven drivers fighting for the last three spots. Drivers will earn the spots either by winning one of the next two races or by virtue of points scored. Not surprisingly, NASCAR's Big Three currently hold the top three positions in the points standings. Kyle Busch leads the pack with 4,104 points while Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick sit in second and third respectively tied with 4,083 points. Truex currently hold the tie-breaker.

Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola make up the rest of the playoff field. All currently sit under the elimination line. Almirola and Bowyer will need to win a race to advance. Busch and Elliott could still make it on points, but will need help. Most of the playoff contenders will be favorites to win the next two races so it is probable that only two and very possibly one of the drivers will advance based on points.

You can see the updated Driver's Playoff Points Standings here.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs continue next week in the Lone Star State with the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Photo credits: Yzukerman CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Author: @chops316
Editor: @liberty-minded


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