Martinsville, where eight boys were trying to lock themselves into the final field of four contenders for the championship in Homestead. At the same time, 31 boys and a girl were doing their utmost to spoil the party for someone by winning the thing themselves. I mean, who would not want a grandfather clock to mark the time since they won at that Virginia track?
It was a cold one, with the temp sitting at 48F (9 C). You might as well have been racing this one in Canada. Some were cold, but Brad Keselowski was hot to start with. He took the opening stage, ahead of Kyle Busch. Seven of the eight contenders, with the 13th place Kevin Harvick the lone exception, picked up points. Denny Hamlin was 10th, but a speeding penalty would set him outside the top 30. While only eight really mattered on that day, I should mention that even Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne, and Austin Dillon were up there racing with the big boys. Some gents took this spoiling thing to heart.
Not much changed in the second segment. Keselowski stole the lead back from Busch late in the run, as all but Hamlin picked up points among our contenders. Denny managed to stay on the lead lap, though barely, sitting 12th. Among the also-rans making cameos we still had Logano, once again in third place, with Matt Kenseth and Clint Bowyer joining in on the fun.
To that point, none of the contenders had hurt their chances, Logano was the best bet to be a spoiler, with half the race left to run. I do try to be a “glass half full” kind of guy, so while Kyle Larson went for a solo glide into the inside wall to buckle up his ride, the good news was that he had already been eliminated from the Chase. Rather than “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive”, something tells me Larson probably looked at it as a broken glass kind of deal.
Few incidents involved those in the top half of the standings. Erik Jones went for a single spin. That might have meant something a month ago, but not much on Sunday. Jimmie Johnson sideswiped Trevor Bayne, and that meant something but just not as much as it could have. While it seemed like some of the boys were losing contact with the top dogs, a late caution bunched the bottom five together again. That fourth and final spot was still up for grabs.
While Logano appeared to be a potential spoiler, Busch spoiled that effort. Down to 13 laps remaining, Rowdy dived into the corner and punched some metal where rubber is supposed to reign supreme in Joey’s left rear. Four laps later, Logano spun, and the caution came out. The final run for all the marbles was going to be a short one.
It turned out especially short for Elliott. He managed to send Keselowski high to fend him off, but Hamlin’s bumper horn was working fine. Elliott spun into the wall, and his hopes for his first career victory was put off for another day. Caution came out again, and a green-white-checker finish was in the offing.
For those not cheering for Hamlin, Karma was your friend. Busch managed to do a little tag and go of his own, but to a lesser degree, then held off Martin Truex Jr. to claim the victory as they wrecked behind him coming to the line. How did they wreck? Well, Blaney got into Hamlin, and the rest just found those two in the way.
Busch has found his way into Homestead with his win. Truex is 67 points to the good and looking very healthy. Keselowski is 29 up, while Harvick has a three-point lead over Johnson as eight points separate fourth from seventh. None of our contenders finished outside the top dozen. Well, except for one.
Elliott was recorded in 27th and falls to 26 points off the pace required for him to stay in contention. A win at Texas or Phoenix is no doubt on his wish list. If nothing else, we know who the fans love and who they do not. As Elliott and Hamlin had a little post-race discussion, the nice son of the nice Hall of Famer from Dawsonville appeared to give clear notice that he might be nice, but enough is enough. The fans loved it. There are reports of Hamlin damn near losing half of his fan club, which should leave two or three holding down the fort.
Meanwhile, I’m sure the winner’s second grandfather clock will prove too large for the shelf, so it will stand many years on Kyle Busch’s floor. I am not sure how tall it is or how much it weighs. In the meantime, I am off to do other things but we will get together to chat about how this all turned out after Miami.