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MENCS: Kyle Busch drives by late wrecks, wins First Data 500

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Surviving a twilight onslaught only the paperclip could unleash, Kyle Busch scuffed to a win in the first Martinsville NASCAR race to conclude under its new LED lighting system.

Busch was a factor all afternoon and into the evening, leading four times for 184 laps.

The Team Penske duo of Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski kept near the front but it became a four horse battle down the stretch. Keselowski led to start the third and final stage but Busch battled back on the restart. He maintained the lead for 59 laps until Chase Elliott found a way around a few laps past the lap 322 restart.

For the remainder of the race it was a seesaw battle between Elliott, Keselowski and Busch. No driver ever had a sizable gap while leading the race. When the lights flicked on this intensity racked†up. The last hundred laps was run bumper to bumper between the leaders. No one had an advantage.

Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski wore each other’s bumpers out chasing the checkered flag. Photo by Jonathan McCoy.

Elliott was the obvious fan favorite. When he would reclaim the lead the resound from fans was akin to an Earnhardt or Gordon win. Fans wanted to see Elliott get his first win under the Martinsville lights.

The tension became palpable when Carl Long spun with less than fifty laps to go. Elliott, by this time, had exchanged the lead with the two veterans more than a few times. Leading 73 laps consecutively before the caution, Elliott lost his position to Keselowski after the restart.

Fenders were rubbing and bumpers were banging. At one point Elliott’s left rear was smoking from a tire rub. For a moment it appeared the 21-year-old’s hopes had been dashed, but the rub subsided and the son of hall of famer, Bill Elliott continued trekking on.

Around a dozen laps left, Logano’s left-rear began smoking. With his teammate in the lead, and in position to advance to the championship four, Logano refused to pit. Unlike Elliott’s luck, Logano eventually blew out his tire – spinning in turn two.

Elliott had a chance again, the atmosphere was electrified. With the focus on the barn burner up front, seemingly no one noticed Denny Hamlin slicing his way into the mix.

On the restart, with less than five laps to go, Busch and Keselowski owned the front row. Elliott was on the inside and Martin Truex Jr. was to his outside, Hamlin was fifth.

With the leaders slamming doors Elliott slipped underneath to take the lead – Martinsville roared – with four laps to go. Hamlin emerged from the scuffles second, right on Elliott’s bumper. With two laps to go, Hamlin drove into Elliott. It didn’t seem like Elliott had much of a chance to save his car. Spun, and dumped up the hill, Elliott was no longer in position to conquer his first win.

The crowd was mad, there was no mistaking it.

Going to overtime, Hamlin led the way on the restart. Kyle Busch found a way around the now resented driver in one lap and then went on to hold off a charging Martin Truex Jr.

On the final corner of the last lap a melee broke out. More than half a dozen cars occurred damage racing from turn-four to the finish line. Hamlin was one of the main victims of the bashing, much to the delight of the fans in attendance.

Truex Jr. had a shot to win. “There was a hole there,” said Truex. “I got in it and thought I had a shot at beating him fair and square. Just couldn’t get the power down off of four. It never crossed my mind to knock him out of the way. I know he hit the 11 out of the way, and that’s I’m sure going to be a sore subject for those two.”

On the cool down lap Elliott found Hamlin. Coasting along the backstretch, Elliott knocked his car into Hamlin’s. Wedging the No. 11 Toyota between him and the wall, the pair of drivers continued until they parked it in turns three and four.

Getting out of their cars, on what was still a hot racetrack, Hamlin and Elliott confronted each other. No punches were thrown but emotions were steaming into the cold night. Neither driver elaborated on what was said on track.

“He’s not even worth my time,” said Elliott on pit road after the incident.

A fan, however, thought Hamlin was worth his time. Hopping over pit wall, a man with large beard went towards Hamlin, screaming his issues. He never made it to the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, but the scuffle was a shock to everyone in the area. It was clear fans had an issue with Hamlin’s move. Jeff Gluck, of Jeffgluck.com reported debris had been thrown out of the stands towards Hamlin’s car on pit road.

After the race Denny Hamlin took to twitter to apologize.

ďIíve raced nearly 10,000 races since I was 7. Today was the first time Iíve ever spun the leader. I regret the outcome because it was not intentional the way it turned out but Iím responsible for my own car and take blame. Nothing I say now can turn back the clock but itís a life lesson and hope no kids out there who aspire to race thinks thatís the way you should do it. Itís becoming a normal in our sport now and I hate that Iím now in the discussion as a guilty party but Iíll move on and hope Chase, his team and fans will accept my apology.Ē†

Denny Hamlin left Martinsville with a track-sized crowd angry with him. Photo by Jonathan McCoy.

 

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