Joey Logano held off Martin Truex Jr. to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ First Data 500 on Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, locking himself into title contention in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Due to last-lap contact, Truex’s soon-to-be-teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, Denny Hamlin, slipped into second, leaving the No. 78 in third.
Kyle Busch started on the pole, but was passed late in the first stage by Hamlin for the stage victory, while Logano took the second stage.
There were eight cautions in total, including one for Timmy Hill‘s stalled and flaming No. 66 on pit road, and 11 lead changes among six different drivers. Ford drivers led 351 of the 500 laps.
Thanks to a lot of late-race cautions, 20 cars finished on the lead lap, and all but four vehicles were running at the finish.
This win locks Logano into the championship quartet three weeks from now. It was his second win of the season, Team Penske’s sixth win of 2018, and Logano has recorded 11 top-fives and 24 top-10s so far this season, leading 800 laps. The driver once known as Sliced Bread has competed for the championship twice before in the past two years, and was in contention before getting wrecked at Martinsville by Matt Kenseth in 2015.
Kyle Larson‘s engine exploded, rendering the No. 42 Chevy Camaro with a 37th-place finish and their fourth DNF of the year. This follows a blown engine in practice last week at Kansas for his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray, who has suffered from five DNFs of his own.
Suarez doesn’t have a ride lined up yet for 2019, so Sunday’s ninth-place run was a good boost for his prospects. He has three top-fives and nine top-10s this season, two within the past four races. By JGR standards, those are dismal, but compared to his rookie season, he’s at least getting more consistent – only two DNFs this season compared to six in 2017, more top-fives and less top-10s than 2017, and a slightly worse position when it comes to average qualifying and finishing results.
Austin Dillon doesn’t have much luck with short tracks. The RCR driver finished nine laps down in 30th on Sunday, matching his spring result at Martinsville, at Bristol he’s run 15th and 13th this year, and 15th and sixth at Richmond. For his MENCS career, Dillon has an average finish of 17th at Bristol, 19th at Martinsville and 20th at Richmond. On the plus side, his younger brother Ty had a great day in the No. 13 Germain Racing Chevy, finishing 15th on Sunday.
Since the playoffs started, Elliott has failed to finish twice due to crashes, but other than that, he’s finished no worse than seventh, including picking up two of his three wins this season. The driver of the No. 9 Camaro has 11 top-fives this season and 19 top-10s when Hendrick as an organization has been dreadful, and though he’s currently on the bad side of the final cutline, Elliott has had a great third season and has a bright future, likely a lock for the Cup Series’ Most Popular Driver award later this season.
Elliott’s teammate William Byron was spun by Clint Bowyer in the pits before wrecking in Turn 4, saddling him with the ninth DNF of his rookie season and a 39th-place finish. His average finish is 22.6, and in the playoffs he’s wrecked or had engine problems four times with a best finish of 19th at Indianapolis and Dover.
Things will get better – Byron is the defending XFINITY Series champion and would have won a Camping World Truck Series title if not for a blown engine at Phoenix – but his rookie year was atrocious.
Paint Scheme of the Week
Matt DiBenedetto‘s No. 32 Go FAS Racing team has had a terrible year on the track, but their cars have looked solid. That continued this weekend, as the No. 32 was decked out in a Peanuts-themed Halloween scheme that was a big hit with fans, based on Twitter reactions. You can’t go wrong with Snoopy (or any of the Peanuts gang, for that matter), and it was good to see this team make it to the finish, even if mechanical problems did send them into the garage for a while.
A second trip to the high banks of Texas Motor Speedway is coming up this weekend for the drivers in the MENCS, XFINITY Series and CWTS.
Between the three series, there will likely be several vicious crashes, as Texas can get violent sometimes and playoff drivers race on the edge to get into the finale.
The CWTS JAG Metals 350 will be Friday, Nov. 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET on FS1, the NXS O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 will be Saturday, Nov. 3 at 4:30 p.m. on NBCSN, and the Cup AAA Texas 500 will be Sunday, Nov. 4 at 3 p.m. on NBCSN.