Blaney wins Martinsville, punches ticket to NASCAR Championship Four; Hamlin and Truex out;
Craziness and hurt feelings dominate Xfinity race
By Dave Hascall
(Martinsville, VA) Ryan Blaney had enough cushion to point his way into the NASCAR Championship Four at the penultimate Cup race at Martinsville Speedway but he was much faster than leader Aric Almorol. Taking the lead and eventually the win, guaranteed his way to compete for the NASCAR championship next week at Phoenix. Although the drama for Blaney wasn’t there, it was for regular season champion Martin Truex Jr., who had a setback earlier today with a pit road speeding violation and perennial championship bridesmaid Denny Hamlin, who’s mechanical failure last week left him 17 points out of advancing to the Championship Four prior to today’s race. Although Hamlin finished third, he was unable to advance. Truex placed 12th and also didn’t advance. Also not advancing were Tyler Reddick and Chris Buescher. Joining Blaney in the race for the Championship will be Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, and William Byron. Almorola finished second ahead of Hamlin, Chase Briscoe, and 2022 champ, Joey Logano. Hamlin won the first stage and finished second in the second (won by Blaney)but he still was eight points shy of taking the final playoff spot from Byron.
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Meanwhile the Xfinity Series set their Championship Four at Martinsville. With just a few laps remaining, a crash occurred that completely blocked the track. NASCAR elected to red flag the event. On the Overtime restart, Austin Hill was in the catbird seat – he led and the way the points shook out a win was the best way to advance to the Championship Four at Phoenix. Unfortunately it was all over before it began. Hill spun the tires. Richard Childress Racing Teammate Sheldon Creed battled Hill on the outside as Hill ran him up the track in one and two. Creed moved Hill up the track in three and four before finally clearing him off of turn two. Creed led down the backstretch with Hill in hot pursuit. Had the race ended there, both Creed and Hill would’ve made the next round of the playoffs but Creed unexpectedly slowed in turn three which caused Hill to ram into the back of Creed’s car. Hill broke the radiator as John Hunter Nemechek spun Hill out. Justin Allgaier, who also needed a win to advance, slid past Creed for the win. Allgaier advanced while Creed and Hill did not. Cole Custer, John Hunter Nemechek, and Sam Mayer will join Allgaier in the Championship Four. Team owner Childress called Creed “stupid” but was clearly not pleased with Hill. Creed had announced his departure from Childress but hadn’t announced future plans. Hill threw Creed under the bus by essentially wishing him well at Joe Gibbs Racing. Woo-wee!, lots of hurt feelings last night!
The Craftsman Truck Series was off this weekend. Their Championship Four at Phoenix includes Corey Heim, Carson Hocevar, Ben Rhodes, and Grant Enfinger.