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Bowman wins at Martinsville; championship field set

Denny Hamlin finished 24th and in doing so still grabbed a berth in the championship-deciding race at Phoenix next weekend based on points. Also advancing to Championship 4 Sunday were Martin Truex, Jr., Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson, who locked up his Championship 4 berth by winning two of the first three races in the Round of 8.

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NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson (5) leads Chase Elliot at the 73rd Annual Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021, in Martinsville, Virginia. Ryan Hunt / USA Today Sports
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MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Alex Bowman's shot to win the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship died when he was eliminated from playoffs on Oct. 10 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. But on Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, Bowman got some redemption when he won the Xfinity 500 NASCAR Cup Series in Virginia in overtime.

He captured the win when he whacked Denny Hamlin out of the lead with six laps to go.

Hamlin finished 24th and in doing so still grabbed a berth in the championship-deciding race at Phoenix next weekend based on points. Not that it soothed his anger at Bowman.

After the end of the race, Hamlin tracked Bowman down on the cool-down laps and rammed the Hendrick Motorsports driver's Chevrolet.

Also advancing to Championship 4 Sunday were Martin Truex, Jr., Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson, who locked up his Championship 4 berth by winning two of the first three races in the Round of 8.

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Falling out of contention were Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney of Team Penske, and Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing.

Busch finished second in the race, Keselowski was third, Truex fourth and William Byron fifth.

Elliott locked himself into the final four before the end of the race. When he won the second stage, he piled up enough points to secure his berth.

Good thing, too, because with 45 laps to go, Elliott was spun by Keselowski as they battled for third place.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver, who led a race-best 289 laps Sunday, will be attempting to win his second straight Cup championship in Phoenix next weekend.

Hamlin was forced to start the race from the rear of the field after his car failed pre-race inspection multiple times. Hamlin's problems compounded during pit stops for the competition caution that was called on Lap 60 as he was slapped with a speeding penalty. But back he came to lead laps and almost got the win.

Truex had to fight his way through with damage to his left front fender suffered with 50 laps to go when he ran into the back of Keselowski.

After wrecking at Kansas a week ago, Blaney started Martinsville a point below the cutline and in need of a good day. His day started badly with a slow race car and got worse when he was rammed from behind by Austin Dillon on Lap 92 while running eighth. The contact seriously flared Blaney's left rear fender and further slowed his Team Penske Ford.

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Kyle Busch's hopes to win a third championship appeared to have succumbed to having a slow car most of the race and then being penalized for speeding between the second and third stages. Second place was enough for him.

Logano started the day 26 points below the cutoff line and pretty much needed to win to advance. Instead, the 2018 Cup champion struggled, was never in contention and was bumped from the playoffs with a 10th-place finish.

Larson appeared to be in prime position to sweep the Round of 8's three events as he led 77 laps in the first stage. But during the pit stops between stages he was tagged with a speeding penalty and dropped out of the top 20. He fought his way back up to near the front of the field but with 120 laps to go received a second speeding penalty. He finished 14th.

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