Chase Elliott in title round with victory at Martinsville; Kevin Harvick eliminated


Chase Elliott advanced to the championship round in the NASCAR Cup Series with an emphatic victory Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, where Kevin Harvick stunningly was eliminated from the playoffs.

Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin joined Elliott and Joey Logano in the Championship 4 in a nail-biting points finish on the 0.526-mile oval.

Elliott finished 6.222 seconds ahead of Ryan Blaney for his fourth victory of the season, putting a Chevrolet in the championship round for the first time in four years. The title race will be held Nov. 8 at Phoenix Raceway.

“Biggest win ever for us,” Elliott told NBC Sports reporter Dave Burns after leading 236 of 500 laps in his 10th career victory and first at Martinsville. “Just so proud. To be able to be backed in the corner like that and have to win tonight. That’s what we’ve been missing these past four to five years — to perform when we don’t have a choice.

RESULTS, POINTS: Full stats package from Martinsville

“To do that tonight, I couldn’t ask for a better night. It’s unreal. Going to Phoenix, shot to win a championship, a beautiful blue Napa Camaro headed out there with a shot to win a title. What more could you ask for?”

Keselowski, who finished fourth, and Hamlin, who hung on for 11th, were one point apart in standings to earn the final two berths in the championship round. Harvick finished eight points out of the last transfer spot in 17th after he spun while desperately trying to knock Kyle Busch aside on the final lap.

“Tried to run into the door of (Busch) as a last-ditch effort there and spun him out, so sorry to put him in the middle of trying to gain a point,” Harvick told NBC Sports reporter Marty Snider. “Just not a great three weeks. Didn’t go out way. We fought for everything we had and just came up short.”

Martin Truex Jr., who had won the past two races at Martinsville and led 129 laps Sunday, had to pit for a loose wheel while running second with 30 laps to go, ending his title bid. Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch also were eliminated from championship eligibility in the Nov. 8 finale at Phoenix Raceway.

Aside from Logano, who locked in with a victory at Kansas two weeks ago, all the remaining championship contenders encountered or narrowly averted major problems.

Elliott’s No. 9 team struggled on pit stops and nearly was tagged with a pit penalty on Lap 353 when his jack man jumped the wall too early (he repositioned himself before lifting the car, and NASCAR rescinded the punishment by rule).

With the handling fading on his No. 11 Toyota under the lights, Hamlin fell deep in traffic after needing an extra pit stop after his team dropped the jack too soon.

And Keselowski rebounded from a speeding penalty on his last stop (“I didn’t even think it was possible to speed there, and I was wrong,” Keselowski told Burns).

But Harvick suffered the biggest setback Sunday and was unable to recover, missing the title round for the first time since 2016.

“I feel bad for Kevin,” Hamlin told Snider. “They probably deserve a little better than that. It’s just the format, I guess. Three races, and everything you can do for eight innings doesn’t matter if you don’t have a great ninth inning. It’s tough to see. I really wish we were going to race those guys, but it’ll be a tough battle with those other three we have to race.”

The regular-season champion and No. 1 seed entering the playoffs, Harvick had amassed 67 playoffs points and a series-high nine victories as seemingly a championship round lock entering the Round of 8.

In the third-round opener at Kansas Speedway, he finished second to Joey Logano, putting him a comfortable 41 points above the cutline. In the rain-delayed race at Texas Motor Speedway, Harvick started from the pole position but hit the wall early and finished 16th.

He still brought a 42-point cushion into Martinsville, where his lone victory came in 2011. After starting sixth, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver began struggling immediately with the handling in his No. 4 Ford.

Harvick was running outside the top 20 on Lap 180 when he collided with Matt Kenseth. The contact cut the left-rear tire on Harvick’s car, necessitating a pit stop under green that dropped him two laps down.

He got a lap back during a caution five laps later through a wavearound, but lack of speed and fortune left Harvick trapped off the lead lap for more than 200 laps.

Harvick finally got back on the lead lap as the free-pass car when the caution flew on Lap 401 for the stalled Ford of James Davison.

Over the final 100 laps, Harvick climbed from 21st to the edge of the top 10 and flirted with the transfer spot to Phoenix as Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford restarted just behind Harvick with 91 laps to go.

But Keselowski was able to gain 18 spots over the final two green-flag runs, and Hamiln was able to hang onto enough points to stay ahead.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Denny Hamlin

STAGE 2 WINNER: Chase Elliott

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ryan Blaney finished second in both races at Martinsville. … With a third at Martinsville, Joey Logano has top-three finishes in three of the past four races this season heading into his fourth championship round appearance. … By finishing fifth, Kurt Busch earned his seventh top-five finish, the most for the Chip Ganassi Racing drivers since 2016.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: In likely his final start at Martinsville, Jimmie Johnson finished 30th after a pit speeding penalty at the track where had nine victories.

NOTABLE: Elliott became the third driver in seven Round of 8 cutoff races to win from below the cut line and make the Championship 4 … This was the 25th victory at Martinsville for Hendrick Motorsports, most among Cup teams. … After Toyota failed to put an entry in the championship round of the truck and Xfinity races, Hamlin ensured the manufacturer would be represented in the Cup title race.

NEXT: The championship will be decided in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway (3 p.m. ET, NBC; prerace show will begin at 1:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Sunday Cup race at Circuit of the Americas: Start time, TV info, weather


Is this Toyota’s weekend?

Chevrolet won the first four races of the season. Ford won last weekend with Joey Logano at Atlanta. Is it Toyota’s turn to win its first Cup race of the season? Or does Chevrolet return to dominance?

Chevrolet drivers have won 11 of the past 12 Cup races on road courses. The exception was Christopher Bell‘s win for Toyota at the Charlotte Roval in last year’s playoffs. Chevrolets have won the two previous Cup races at COTA: Chase Elliott in 2021 and Ross Chastain in 2022.

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: Brendan Hunt, who plays Coach Beard in “Ted Lasso” on Apple TV+, will give the command to start engines at 3:38 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:49 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Drivers meeting at 2:45 p.m. … Driver introductions at 3:05 p.m. … Invocation will be given by Sage Steele, ESPN broadcaster, at 3:30 p.m. … Jaime Camil, actor from “Schmigadoon” on Apple TV+, will perform the national anthem at 3:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 68 laps (231.88 miles) on the 3.41-mile, 20-turn road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 15. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: Fox will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. Pre-race coverage begins at 2 p.m. on FS1 and moves to Fox at 3 p.m. … Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and will also stream at; SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.


FORECAST: Weather Underground – Mostly clouldy with a high of 74 degrees and a 9% chance of rain at the start of the race.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying is at 11:30 a.m. ET Saturday

LAST YEAR: Ross Chastain scored his first career Cup win in a physical battle with AJ Allmendinger on the final lap. Alex Bowman finished second. Christopher Bell placed third.


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NASCAR Saturday schedule at Circuit of the Americas


Saturday will be a busy day at Circuit of the Americas, as all three national series are on the track.

Cup will qualify ahead of the Craftsman Truck and Xfinity Series races.

The forecast Saturday calls for sunny conditions and no chance of rain all day. The high is expected to be 69 degrees during Cup qualifying, 76 degrees at the start of the Truck race and 81 degrees for the start of the Xfinity race.

Zane Smith looks to win his second consecutive Truck race at the road course in Austin, Texas. AJ Allmendinger seeks his second consecutive Xfinity win at COTA.

Saturday, March 25

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 8 a.m. – 1 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 10:30 a.m.  — Truck Series
  • 2 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1)
  • 1:30 p.m. — Truck race (42 laps, 143 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 5 p.m. — Xfinity race (46 laps, 156 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

COTA Xfinity starting lineup: AJ Allmendinger takes pole


AJ Allmendinger, who won this race a year ago, will start on the pole for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas.

Allmendinger earned the pole with a lap of 92.173 mph Friday on the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Xfinity starting lineup

He will be joined on the front row Sammy Smith (91.827 mph).
Ty Gibbs (91.665) will start third. Sheldon Creed (91.652) qualified fourth. Parker Kligerman (91.195) will start fifth.

Cup driver William Byron will start ninth. Byron’s time was disallowed for cutting the esses. Cole Custer, who will start 10th, didn’t make a lap in the final round of qualifying.

Cup driver Aric Almirola (91.269) qualified 13th. Truck Series racer Carson Hocevar (90.669) will start 17th. Alex Labbe (90.476) will start 23rd. He’s filling in for Josh Williams, who is serving a one-race suspension for parking his car at the start/finish line of last weekend’s race at Atlanta.

COTA Truck starting lineup: Ross Chastain wins pole


Ross Chastain will start on the pole for Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas.

Chastain earned the top starting spot in Friday’s qualifying with a lap of 91.877 mph. He’ll be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch (91.490 mph).

More: COTA Truck starting lineup

Ty Majeski qualified third with a lap of 91.225 mph. Rookie Nick Sanchez (90.993) will start fourth, and Christian Eckes (90.937) will complete the top five.

Alex Bowman failed to make the race. Bowman had a flat right front on his qualifying lap.