Denny Hamlin: ‘It was just a mess in the end’

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MARTINSVILLE, Virginia — They cheered him after each of his five victories at Martinsville Speedway, and many mores times as he ran near the front at his historic half-mile track through the years.

Sunday, under the lights, fans booed Denny Hamlin after he wrecked Chase Elliott for the lead in the final laps, costing Elliott a chance for his first Cup victory and a spot in the championship race next month in Miami.

Those upset at Hamlin got their revenge. Kyle Busch moved Hamlin, his teammate, up the track on the final lap to win the First Data 500 to earn a spot in the championship round.

After the race, Elliott forced Hamlin’s car up into the backstretch wall. They both climbed from their cars and had a heated exchange.

“He said I wrecked him,’’ said Hamlin, who finished seventh. “Obviously Ray Charles saw that. Obviously it wasn’t intentional. I wanted to move him out of the way. It was just not enough grip on the race track for him to save it. He washed (Brad Keselowski) up the race track as well. We can play favorites if we want. Unfortunately, this is a ticket to Homestead at stake.’’

Said Elliott of Hamlin’s late move: It’s unnecessary and uncalled for. I got punted from behind and wrecked in Turn 3 leading the race.

Elliott moved Keselowski, who was leading, up the track to take the top spot on Lap 497. Hamlin pushed Elliott, sending Elliott spinning and Hamlin into the lead on Lap 498, creating a caution. Busch took the lead from Hamlin on the last lap, which ended with several cars crashing.

“Everybody wrecked everyone at the end,’’ Hamlin said. “It was complete … chaos. I got into the back of him and he spun out, and somebody got in the back of me and I wrecked too. It was just a mess in the end. Everybody was doing the exact same thing. I hate it for his team. I understand he had a win for a long time coming. This is a ticket for Homestead. I’m not sitting here saying that I wrecked him on purpose. I tried to move him out of the way and (he) spun out.’’

Hamlin’s interview on NBCSN was played on the track’s speaker system. A crescendo of boos rained upon him from the stands.

“I don’t care,’’ he said of the boos. “I don’t care about that. I’m just trying to get to Homestead.’’

Hamlin didn’t express much displeasure about Busch’s move on him for the win.

“I can’t judge too much,’’ Hamlin said. “I spun (Elliott) out. I don’t know. I didn’t think he’d move me, but you never know. It’s all fair in love and war when it comes to Homestead.’’

Hamlin said what happened in the final laps was simply short track racing.

“Everybody is trying to battle for their own position,’’ he said. “I watched a Late Model race here a month ago that was just like the exact same thing. You come to a race track like this, you get late-race restarts and you know a Cup series championship chance is on the line, that can happen.’’

He later added on Twitter:

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Kyle Busch wins pole for Truck Series race at Atlanta

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Kyle Busch won the pole for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, his second Truck Series pole at the track.

Driving his No 4. Toyota, Busch put down a top speed of 179.743 mph.

Matt Crafton qualified second with a speed of 179.220 mph.

“My lap was pretty good, certainly felt more stuck (to the track) the first time around than the second time around,” Busch told Fox Sports 1. “We even picked up a little bit of time on that second one. … We were really, really tight here last year and made some good changes to it through the offseason with notes and things and coming back here better prepared.”

The top five is completed by Noah Gragson (179.214), Spencer Davis (178.862) and Justin Haley (178.775).

Gragson and Davis give Kyle Busch Motorsports three of the first four starting spots.

Johnny Sauter, who won last week at Daytona, will start ninth.

Busch’s pole is his second of the weekend. He also won the pole for Sunday’s Cup Series race.

The Active Pest Control 200 begins at 4:30 p.m. ET on FS1.

Click here for the starting lineup.

Christopher Bell on Xfinity pole at Atlanta

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HAMPTON, Georgia — Rookie Christopher Bell qualified first for Saturday’s Rinnai 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway with a 181.176-mph lap in his No. 20 Toyota.

it’s the second pole in 10 starts for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver.

Joey Logano was second in his No. 22 Ford, followed by John Hunter Nemechek, Cole Custer and Kevin Harvick.

Click here for the Xfinity Series qualifying results and click here for the Xfinity lineup by row.

The Xfinity race will start at 2:16 p.m. ET, starting a doubleheader with the truck series at Atlanta.

Sunday’s Atlanta race moved to 1:06 p.m. ET start with threat of weather

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HAMPTON, Georgia – The threat of inclement weather has moved up the start of Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway by an hour.

NASCAR announced Saturday morning that the green flag will fall on the second race of the 2018 season at 1:06 p.m. ET.

Races become official after the second stage. The second stage of Sunday’s 500-mile race will end on Lap 170 of 325.

The wunderground.com site calls for an 80 percent chance of rain Sunday with the forecast worsening from 10 a.m.

Martin Truex Jr., Jimmie Johnson top list of drivers docked practice

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HAMPTON, Georgia — Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson both will be held during the final Cup Series practice Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Because his No. 78 Toyota failed to clear prequalifying inspection three times Friday, Truex will miss the final 30 minutes of the 80-minute session that will begin at noon ET. Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet will be out for the last 15 minutes because it failed the new Optical Scanning Station twice.

Harrison Rhodes also will miss 15 minutes for failing inspection twice. Jeffrey Earnhardt, Gray Gaulding Jr., Michael McDowell and Cole Whitt each will miss 15 minutes because they were late to qualifying inspection.

NASCAR changed its policy on how practice holds will be conducted this season. Instead of serving the penalty in the pits at the start of the session, drivers will park their cars for the length of the penalty up until the end of the session.