No. 2: Martinsvil­le’s play­off race ended in anger

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS - By God­win Kelly god­[email protected]

This is the fourth of a five-part series count­ing down our top five NASCAR Cup Series races of 2019.

The fight.

If you talk about the First Data 500 – the sec­ond Cup Series race at Martinsvil­le Speed­way in 2019 – the al­ter­ca­tion be­tween play­off con­tenders Joey Logano and Denny Ham­lin im­me­di­ately springs to mind.

A post-race ver­bal ex­change be­tween Ham­lin and Logano started with the look of cour­tesy and ended in chaos.

The point of con­tention was an in­ci­dent on Lap 458 when Ham­lin’s Toy­ota and Logano’s Ford made side-to-side con­tact off Turn 4 and Logano’s car banged into the out­side wall.

Logano spun in Turn 1 to bring out the 10th cau­tion, and he re­cov­ered to fin­ish eighth, but he wanted an­swers from Ham­lin af­ter the race.

“We were hav­ing a dis­cus­sion,” Ham­lin said. “Every­thing was civil, and then, like Joey does, he does a lit­tle push and then runs away. So that’s Joey. Scared. He said, ‘Do you want to go?’ I said, ‘Yes, I’m here.’ But then he runs away.”

“I just wanted to see what his thoughts were, and it wasn’t quite the an­swer I was look­ing for,” said Logano, who ini­ti­ated the phys­i­cal­ity with a light push to Ham­lin’s right shoul­der.

There was push­ing and shov­ing and such be­tween the driv­ers and their pit crews. When all was said and done, only one crew mem­ber drew a sus­pen­sion from NASCAR for foul play.

The fight took the fo­cus off Martin Truex Jr. and his nearly per­fect run to the vic­tory, which put him in the Cham­pi­onship Round.

Truex led a ca­reer-high 464 laps in the 500-lap event.

“I can’t be­lieve we just won Martinsvil­le, man,” said Truex, who fin­ished .489 sec­onds ahead of Wil­liam By­ron af­ter a restart with 24 laps to go.”

“I don’t think any­one ex­pected that,” Truex con­tin­ued. “This race­track, in gen­eral, you don’t see that. Hats off to my guys; pit crew was stel­lar, and we didn’t make many ad­just­ments. We ad­justed on it early and it came to life, and that was a lot of fun.”

Af­ter go­ing years with­out a short-track vic­tory, Truex swept both races at Rich­mond, then con­quered Martinsvil­le.

“I don’t know, maybe now I’ve got this place fig­ured out,” Truex said. “Who knows? . . . I’m just proud of ev­ery­body for giv­ing me a race car like that and be­ing able to put it all to­gether when it counted.”

By­ron chased the vet­eran un­til the laps were all gone.

“He was re­ally strong,” said By­ron. “This isn’t a place that I’ve loved com­ing to, and it just clicked; the things we did with the car go­ing into qual­i­fy­ing and then ob­vi­ously our race. Su­per ex­cited, but sec­ond is not su­per fun, ei­ther. We’ll try to get one spot bet­ter next time.”

This race all but knocked Chase El­liott from play­off con­tention.

El­liott fin­ished 36th, 55 laps down af­ter his rear axle broke on Lap 180. He ex­ited Martinsvil­le 44 points below the cut line.

[AP/STEVE HEL­BER]

Martin Truex Jr. cel­e­brates af­ter win­ning at Martinsvil­le and ad­vanc­ing to the NASCAR Cup Series Cham­pi­onship Round at Homestead. His win was over­shad­owed by a post-race fight on pit road.

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