Martin Truex Jr. became the first driver locked into the championship race at Miami three weeks from now after a dominating win Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.
Truex led 464 of the 500 laps around the .526-mile bullring. Of note, two of the last three Martinsville playoff winners have gone on to win the NASCAR Cup championship. Could Truex become the third in the last four years to do so?
William Byron mounted a late challenge but couldn’t quite close the gap on Truex, finishing second.
Brad Keselowski finished third, followed by Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney.
Rounding out the top 10 were Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson and Ryan Newman.
The lowest-finishing playoff driver was Chase Elliott, who was 36th in the 38-car field. Elliott wound up 55 laps behind the leaders and plummets to last among the remaining Round of 8 drivers in the standings with two more races remaining to qualify for the season finale at Miami.
Sunday’s race winner, Martin Truex Jr., has an automatic berth into the Championship 4 race at Miami in three weeks. Denny Hamlin is 24 points above the cutoff line, while Kyle Busch is 17 points above and Joey Logano is 14 points above.
Kevin Harvick (-14), Ryan Blaney (-15), Kyle Larson (-24) and Chase Elliott (-44) are all below the cutoff line after the first race.