NASCAR

Martinsville NASCAR: Bowman wins after spinning Hamlin, Championship 4 set

In the closing 25 of 501 laps, Bowman’s Hendrick Motorsport Chevrolet and title contender Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota) battled side-by-side multiple times for the lead until Bowman got loose and knocked Hamlin into a spin on lap 494.

As Hamlin dropped to an eventual 24th position, Bowman – who had dropped out of playoff contention after the Charlotte roval – escaped after the final restart to score a fourth win of 2021.

Hamlin still progressed to the Championship 4 race at Phoenix next week on points, along with fourth-placed Martin Truex Jr (JGR), 16th placed defending champion Chase Elliott (Hendrick) and Kyle Larson (Hendrick) – who finished a lowly 14th having already booked his place with back-to-back wins at Texas and Kansas.

Busch – who had started Stage 3 from the rear after a speeding penalty – was wrecked by Brad Keselowski (Team Penske Ford) as the race ended, second and third not enough for either of them to progress as Busch lost out to Truex by three points. Fellow Penske drivers Joey Logano (10th) and Ryan Blaney (11th) also missed out.

After the race, Bowman began a victory burnout celebration on the front-stretch only to be confronted by Hamlin, the two cars facing off nose-to-nose. Hamlin afterwards labelled Bowman “an absolute hack”.

Explaining the incident, Bowman said: “I just got loose in. I got in too deep, knocked him out of the way and literally let him have the lead back.

“For anybody that wants to think I was trying to crash him, obviously wasn’t the case considering I literally gave up the lead at Martinsville to give it back to him.

“He’s been on the other side of that, he’s crashed guys here for wins.

“I hate doing it. Obviously, I don’t want to crash somebody. I just got in, got underneath him, spun him out.

“Regardless, we get a free grandfather clock, which is pretty special. I struggled here for a long time.”

Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Ally celebrates winning the Xfinity 500.

Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro Ally celebrates winning the Xfinity 500.

Photo by: Ben Earp / NKP / Motorsport Images

Elliott had started the day strongly, passing polesitter Larson on lap 56 and then retaking the lead following a competition caution that handed the initiative back to Larson on lap 85, holding off his team-mate to take the Stage 1 win ahead of Truex, William Byron and Keselowski.

Hamlin, whose car had twice failed pre-race inspection and been forced to start from the rear, was penalised for speeding in the pits during the first competition caution in Stage 1 and was demoted to the rear of the field once again.

The same fate befell Larson when Stage 2 got underway, easing the path for Elliott to clinch his Championship 4 spot by winning Stage 2.

He led until a caution for Austin Dillon’s puncture allowed Truex to leap to the front in the pits, only for Elliott to repass on lap 205.

Bowman followed him to the flag in second, as Hamlin recovered to fifth behind Byron and Truex.

In the third Stage, Logano had gambled on staying out under a caution caused by contact between Ross Chastain and Ryan Newman, but the 2018 champion’s stint out front didn’t last long as Elliott soon powered past on lap 351.

Following the 10th caution of the race when Daniel Suarez spun on lap 379, when Larson was again sent to the rear of the pack for pitlane speeding, Hamlin took the lead for the first time by passing Truex – the latter concerned that his car was pushing water and in danger of overheating.

Hamlin continued to lead following a crash for Dillon on lap 436, with Bowman emerging as his closest challenger, and Elliott well-placed in third.

But the 2020 champion’s race was heavily compromised when he was spun out by Keselowski shortly afterwards – resuming 21st after he had pitted under the resulting caution.

Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro NAPA Auto Parts, Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry Auto-Owners Insurance, Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry M&M's Halloween, Brad Keselowski, Team Penske, Ford Mustang Dent Wizard

Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro NAPA Auto Parts, Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry Auto-Owners Insurance, Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry M&M’s Halloween, Brad Keselowski, Team Penske, Ford Mustang Dent Wizard

Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images

Two more caution periods involving incidents for Ricky Stenhouse Jr gave Keselowski a shot at the win he needed to progress, as he moved into second behind Hamlin for a lap 478 restart.

It was Bowman though who powered to the lead, only to see Hamlin reclaim it on lap 479. The fateful incident which determined the race occurred on lap 494, which led to overtime in which Bowman clinched the win.

Behind Truex, who rallied impressively to secure his Championship 4 place late on, Byron beat Aric Almirola to fifth spot, as Kurt Busch, Erik Jones, Chris Buescher and Logano completed the top 10.

Martinsville NASCAR results (501 laps):

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