By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
MARTINSVILLE, VA – Denny Hamlin advanced to the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway despite a late-race crash at Martinsville Speedway.
Hamlin took the lead in the Xfinity 500 with 112 laps to go. The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota Camry battled with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr as well as Alex Bowman. Four back-to-back cautions pitted Hamlin against both Bowman and Truex over the final 50 laps.
In the final 30 laps, Bowman battled with side-by-side with Hamlin for the lead. The battle started on the restart the Hendrick Motorsports driver sent Hamlin into Turn 1. Before Hamlin could return the favor, Bowman moved up the track, giving the No. 11 the inside. After returning the lead to Hamlin, the driver of the No. 48 Ally Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE continued the lead battle.
Hamlin and Bowman battled cleanly for several laps. Then Bowman overdrove the corner and broke loose, clipping the Toyota Racing driver. Hamlin spun into the Turn 4 wall with six laps to go. Despite an overtime restart, Hamlin took the checkered flag in 24th, eight points above the cutline.
“He’s just a hack, just an absolute hack,” Hamlin said about Bowman. “He gets his ass kicked by his teammates every week. He’s terrible. He’s just terrible. He sees one opportunity, he takes it. Obviously, he’s got the fast car of the week and he runs 10th. He didn’t want to race us there. We had a good, clean race. I moved up as high as I could on the racetrack to give him all the room I could, he still can’t drive.”
After the finish, Hamlin made his anger at Bowman known. He cutoff the victory celebration, hitting the No. 48 head-on several times, reminiscent to the double burnout that Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney performed in Las Vegas several years ago. Hamlin gave Bowman an obscene gesture with both hands before he drove off to pit road.
Hamlin entered Martinsville 32-points above the cutline. Failing pre-race tech twice and starting from the rear prevented the Chesterfield, VA native from earning points in Stage 1. The 40-year-old finished Stage 2 in fifth, netting an additional six points.
Now Hamlin will attempt to win his first NASCAR Cup Series championship at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, November 7. This is the fourth time that he has made the Championship 4 and the third consecutive year.
“I’ve said for many, many weeks now that it would be a disservice if someone other than the two of us (Larson and myself) didn’t win,” stated Hamlin. “He’s obviously probably the most deserving over the course of the year that he’s had from start to finish.
“Nearly it all ended right there in turn three for silly reasons. That’s why I always preach about wish the sample size was bigger. You don’t have somebody else’s mistakes that can take you out of what you’ve done for the whole season.
“Certainly I think when you look at the four that are in it, I think it’s the best four that you could possibly put in that race. I think all of them would be deserving champions. Obviously Kyle would make the most sense.”
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Chris Owens / Harold Hinson Photography.