NASCAR Martinsville recap
Since the NASCAR Playoffs began in 2004 – then referred to as the Chase for the Cup – few tracks have provided more playoff drama than NASCAR’s oldest active race track, the Martinsville Speedway.
The 2022 edition of the Xfinity 500 provided more moments that will live forever in NASCAR lore, as for the second straight round, Christopher Bell scored the victory in a must-win situation in order to qualify for the Championship 4.
As Bell was taking the checkered flag, Ross Chastain made one of the most spectacular moves in the history of the sport in order to transfer to Phoenix.
Kyle Larson started from pole position and led the first 68 laps before playoff contender and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott grabbed the top spot.
Elliott led the race’s next 52 laps, but as Stage 1 approached its conclusion, multi-time Martinsville winner Denny Hamlin made the pass on Elliott to take the lead and score the Stage 1 win, allowing him to pick up 10 valuable championship points toward his playoff effort.
Additionally, Hamlin was able to lap William Byron just before the conclusion of the stage, allowing him to gain a crucial advantage over the driver that entered the race on the cutoff line.
Both Stage 1 and Stage 2 ran under green flag conditions throughout their entire duration, and Hamlin led all of the middle frame en route to sweeping both of the mid-race stages.
Hamlin remained in control as Stage 3 began, but when the caution flew for an Austin Dillon crash in turn 3, the complexion of the race changed. Hamlin lost the lead on pit road to his teammate Bell, who needed to win in order to advance to the final four.
Bell shared the front row with Ryan Blaney – who was in a similar must-win scenario – and those two ran within the top three throughout the majority of the final stage.
But when the caution flew for Landon Cassill’s accident in turns 3 and 4, the door was opened for some desperate strategy calls on the final pit stops of the day.
As the field lined up for a restart with 24 laps to go, playoff contender Chase Briscoe stayed out on worn tires with his teammate Cole Custer. Larson, Keselowski, and Byron all took two tires, while Bell and Blaney lined up as the first cars on four fresh tires in sixth and seventh.
Hamlin and Chastain restarted 11th and 12th, and if Briscoe, Bell, Byron, or Blaney could grab victory, those two drivers would be left to fight for the last transfer spot on points.
Hamlin and Chastain’s season-long rivalry continued, as the two drivers made contact while battling over several laps before Hamlin was able to clear. As Hamlin pulled away and put more cars between them, Chastain’s Championship 4 hopes seemed to be fading.
At the front, Briscoe tried mightily to hold on with his older tires, but Bell carved his way through the field, and with five laps to go, Bell made the bump-and-run pass for the lead and set sail toward victory.
On the final lap, Chastain needed to make up two positions in order to transfer, but had no cars directly ahead of him.
So entering turn three, Chastain shifted into high gear and laid his car against the wall, riding all the way around the corner. Miraculously, the video-game-like move worked, as Chastain passed five cars in the final set of corners, allowing him to transfer and knocking Hamlin out of the Championship 4.
An astonished crowd gave Chastain a large ovation as he climbed from the car, as his once-in-a-lifetime move put him into his first Championship 4 along with the race winner Bell, Elliott and Joey Logano.
Kasey Kreider is a second-year majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email email@example.com.
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