For the second time this season, the NASCAR Xfinity Series took on Martinsville Speedway, this time for the cutoff race for the Round of 8. With nobody locked into the Championship Four due to non-playoff drivers winning the two prior races, the drivers knew they had to put all they had into this race.
With Martinsville being a familiar track, there was neither practice nor qualifying held. This led to the starting lineup being decided by a mathematical formula. Each driver’s starting position was determined as 25% driver’s finishing position from the previous race, 25% owner’s finishing position from the previous race, 35% team owner points, and 15% fastest lap from the previous race. This put the 22 of reigning champion Austin Cindric on the pole with the 54 of last week’s winner Ty Gibbs beside him. The rest of the top-five included the 16 of regular season champion AJ Allmendinger, the 11 of Justin Haley, and the 7 of Justin Allgaier.
Prior to the drop of the green flag, the 61 of Stephen Leicht and 07 of Joe Graf Jr. were sent to the rear for unapproved adjustments to their cars. Additionally, the 74 of Mike Harmon was sent for a late driver change.
At 6:17 p.m., the green flag was flown and the drivers were off. The 22 of Cindric held onto his lead for 15 laps before the caution was brought out for the 90 of Preston Pardus who took a spin. With the 78 of Akinori Ogata in the free pass position, Cindric once again led the field to green.
Since the early caution was close to the scheduled competition caution, it was moved to lap 30. The 90 of Pardus was the free pass this time and only seven pitted at the break.
This time, it was Cindric and Allmendinger on the front row for the restart. On lap 48 the 54 of Gibbs brake checked the 8 of Sam Mayer, causing him heavy damage. About half of the field pitted after the caution was brought out.
This restart saw Cindric and the 18 of Daniel Hemric at the front. With just seven laps to go before the end of the stage, Cindric was able to hold off Hemric and earn the stage win. With this victory, he clinched a spot in the Championship Four. With a fourth place finish, Allmendinger did as well. Those who had not pitted at the earlier caution chose to do so at the break.
At the restart, it was Gibbs and the 9 of Noah Gragson on the front row. Gibbs had an unsuccessful restart and fell quickly with the 20 of Harrison Burton taking second. There was not much action throughout stage two except for the 9 and 20 battling for the lead, but Gragson held off the charging Burton for the stage victory.
All lead lap cars pitted at the break with the 11 of Justin Haley who started the day just seven points below the cut line having to pit twice. He had a significant brake issue during his first stop and was unable to fuel the car. In his second stop, the rear brakes caught on fire. The crew fixed the issue as best as they could and sent Haley back out.
The front row consisted of Gragson and Burton for the restart, with the 9 holding onto the lead. Just one lap later, the 11 of Haley was sent to the garage for his brake issues. At lap 150, the caution was brought out again for the 15 of Bayley Currey who took a spin.
Only four cars pitted at this break as Gragson and Gibbs made up the front row for the restart. On lap 179, the 99 of Ryan Ellis spun in turn two after getting loose and brought out another caution. Only the 52 of Spencer Boyd stayed out with Gibbs winning the race off pit road.
As expected, the 52 held up the bottom line on his older tires. As this bunched up traffic near the front, the 2 of Myatt Snider wheel hopped and slowed, causing the 39 of Ryan Sieg to get into his back and spin him.
The restart once again saw Gragson and Gibbs on the front row. With the 52 still near the front, he held up traffic once again and caused the 1 of Michael Annett and 98 of Riley Herbst to get into each other. Further back, the 5 of Matt Mills ran over the left front fender of Snider, tearing it off. The 02 of Brett Moffitt also spun, bringing out the red flag for cleanup.
Ten minutes later, the race restarted with Gibbs and Gragson at the front. Before getting a single lap in, the 9 of Gragson spun Gibbs in turn three. The 20 of Burton then ran right into the 54 with nowhere else to go.
At this restart, it was Gragson and Cindric at the front with the 9 holding onto the lead. On lap 219, the caution was brought out yet again, this time for debris off of Burton. During his pit stop, he accidentally took his jack with him and dumped it on the back stretch.
This time, it was Gragson and Allgaier leading the field to green. At lap 232 after a tight battle, the 18 of Hemric passed Gragson for the lead and held it for 12 laps. At this time, the caution was brought out for Haley who spun in turn four. 22 laps down at that point, he had lost his breaks entirely and retired from the race, officially ending his Championship Four hopes.
For the first attempt at overtime, it was Hemric and Gragson on the front row. Gragson took the lead before the caution was brought out once again for the 31 of Josh Berry who made contact with Herbst.
At the final restart, it was Gragson and Cindric at the front. Gragson once again took the early lead, and was able to hold on for the entire two-lap shootout. With the win, he earned a spot in the Championship Four alongside Cindric, Allmendinger, and Hemric.
The race for the championship will take place on Saturday, November 6th at 8:30 p.m. at Phoenix Raceway.
Featured photo from @JRMotorsports on Twitter.