A look at the Martinsville winners and losers:
Chase Elliott — In a must-win situation, Elliott did just that Sunday at Martinsville. That sends him to the Championship 4 for the first time in four attempts. “I’m just so proud to be able to be backed into a corner like that and have to win,” Elliott told NBC Sports. “I feel like that’s what we’ve been missing these past four or five years and perform when we don’t have a choice.”
Tyler (T.J.) Semke — Jackman for Chase Elliott’s team. He recognized he had jumped from the pit wall too soon, went back to the wall to tag it with his foot before he had performed any work on the car, fulfilling the requirement in section 10.9.8.g in the Rule Book that states: “Should a crew member’s feet prematurely touch the pit road surface prior to servicing the vehicle, said crew member(s) can re-establish their position back to or behind service wall prior to servicing the vehicle to avoid a penalty.” Elliott exited pit road fourth. Had Semke not gone back to tag the wall, Elliott would have been penalized and restarted at the tail end of the field. He would have been outside the top 20 with less than 150 laps to go.
Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski — They secured the final two spots in the Championship 4 field, joining Joey Logano and Chase Elliott.
Harrison Burton — Won the Xfinity race at Martinsville, the series’ first there since 2006. Victory was his second in a row. He also became the youngest series winner at Martinsville, breaking the record held by his dad Jeff.
Team Penske — Puts two Cup cars in the Championship 4 for the first time and has Austin Cindric racing for a title in the Xfinity Series.
Fans crying foul — While the playoff system is designed to give drivers who win the most throughout the season the biggest advantage, never does the system guarantee those drivers an automatic berth into the Championship 4. That Kevin Harvick failed to make the title race after a nine-win season is unfortunate. But something like this was bound to happen in this format. Even in previous formats drivers who won the most races didn’t win the title, most notably in 1985 when Bill Elliott won 11 races and finished second for the title to Darrell Waltrip (three wins); 1996 when Jeff Gordon won 10 races and finished second to Terry Labonte (two wins) for the title; and 2004 when Jimmie Johnson won eight races but finished second for the championship to Kurt Busch (three wins).
Kevin Harvick — Spectacular season will end without running for a championship. In the five short track races this season, he had one win and two top 10s. He finished 15th at Martinsville in June and 17th on Sunday after losing seven spots on the last lap after he ran into Kyle Busch.
Toyota — A year after Toyota had three of the four cars in the Cup title race (and won the title with Kyle Busch), it barely got one in this year with Denny Hamlin. He is Toyota’s only driver racing for a championship this week in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.