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Kyle Busch Clinches Berth in NASCAR Title Race

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The semi-final round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs began in dramatic fashion Sunday, with Kyle Busch punching his ticket to the championship race with a victory in the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Busch won for the third time in the Cup playoffs, prevailing over fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr., who also has three playoff wins. Clint Bowyer was third in a Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, followed by Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick.  

“We weren’t the best all day, but we put ourselves in the right spots there at the end and there was kind of chaos ensuing and none of it was our fault,” said Busch, the 2015 Cup champion. “We just came out on the right end of the stick.”

Busch took his final lead on an overtime restart in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to end a wild race that saw many twists and turns in the closing laps.

Chase Elliott appeared headed to his first career victory, but on Lap 445 of the 500-lap race, contact from Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 Team Penske Ford caused a tire rub on the left-rear wheel of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

Then, with 43 laps to go, a spin by Carl Long brought out the day’s ninth caution. But Elliott’s crew got the tire rub fixed and he held the lead on the restart.

Once the track went green with less than 40 laps to go, Keselowski began beating on Elliott’s bumper. Finally, with 30 laps to go, Keselowski got past Elliott to take the lead.

With nine laps to go, Joey Logano spun to bring out another caution.

The track went green with four laps to go and Elliott muscled his way under Keselowski for the lead, only to get dumped by Denny Hamlin with two laps to go, sending the race to overtime.

And in overtime, Busch cleared Hamlin to take the win.

After the race ended, Elliott angrily confronted Hamlin about crashing him out of the race. 

It was definitely 100 percent unnecessary and uncalled for,” Elliott said. 

“This was for a ticket to Homestead,” Hamlin said. “I’m not sitting here saying I wrecked him on purpose. I tried to move him out of the way and he spun out.”

This round will determine which four drivers will race for the Cup title Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Busch’s win at Martinsville locks him into the title battle, with three spots still open.

Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen is a veteran motorsports journalist. He spent 13 years with, where he was Digital Content Manager. Previously, he was executive editor of NASCAR Scene and managing editor of National Speed Sport News. Jensen served as the president of the National Motorsports Press Association and is the group’s former Writer of the Year.