After a crazy day of mayhem disguised as racing that ended in controversy and calamity, Kyle Busch won Sunday’s First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway, the opening race in Round 3 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
Busch’s victory, his third of the playoffs, means he’s guaranteed to be one of the four drivers in the Nov. 19 Cup championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The next two races at Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway will determine what three other drivers join Busch in the title race.
Here’s where all eight playoff drivers stand after Martinsville.
- Martin Truex Jr., 4117 points
With a 67-point lead over fifth-place Jimmie Johnson, Truex is virtually guaranteed to be in the championship race at Homestead. And that’s only fitting because he’s won three playoff races and has had the fastest car all year. In seven playoff races, Truex’s average finish is 5.28, including a career-best second at Martinsville.
- Kyle Busch, 4100
Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than to be good. Sunday at Martinsville, Busch was both lucky and good. Busch’s third playoff win locks him into Homestead, where he’ll compete for his second Cup championship in three years.
- Brad Keselowski, 4079
After winning here in the spring, Keselowski came into this race thinking that it was a must win, and he did, in fact, lead much of the race before finishing fourth. But he has enough points that he ought to be fairly secure about making the final four.
- Kevin Harvick, 4053
With only a 3-point lead on seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, Harvick can’t feel safe at all heading into the final two races of this round. On the other hand, he and his Stewart-Haas Racing team are clutch performers this time of year.
- Jimmie Johnson, 4050
The nine-time Martinsville winner and seven-time series champion never showed the kind of speed he normally does here. Of course, that’s been the case for most of the playoffs so far this year. Still, a 12th-place finish on Sunday keeps his title hopes alive.
- Ryan Blaney, 4047
In his brief career, Blaney has struggled at Martinsville, but on Sunday, he worked through an ill-handling Wood Brothers Racing Ford to come him with a solid eighth-place finish. He’s got two races to make up a 6-point deficit.
- Denny Hamlin, 4045
It’s one thing to move the leader out of the way in the closing laps of a NASCAR short-track race. It’s another thing to dump him. Hamlin dumped race leader Chase Elliott with 2 laps to go on Sunday because he said he was going for the guaranteed spot the winner would get. Guess what? Hamlin wound up seventh.
- Chase Elliott, 4027
The big loser in all of this was the second-year, second-generation racer Elliott, who got wrecked by Hamlin when he was leading the race with two laps to go. Realistically, Elliott is going to have to win at Texas or Phoenix to get a spot in the championship four, which is too bad, because he’s run really well in the playoffs.