Chase Elliott was in position for a shocking first win to advance to the championship race next Sunday, but Matt Kenseth had other plans.
Kenseth, who is without a ride next season, passed Elliott with nine laps remaining and held on for the win, dashing Elliott’s only hope to win and advance. Thanks to Kenseth’s late pass, Brad Keselowski advanced to the title race along with Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr.
Elliott took the lead away from Kenseth after wrecking Denny Hamlin out of the race with just under 50 laps to go.
Seeking payback from Martinsville, Elliott battered Hamlin’s bumper with 43 laps to go, likely causing a tire rub to Hamlin’s left-front. Hamlin slammed into the wall on on Lap 274, causing considerable damage to the No. 11, ending his day. Elliott led until Kenseth, 45, took the lead on Lap 303.
Elliott finished second, followed by Martin Truex Jr., Erik Jones and Kevin Harvick.
Jimmie Johnson’s quest for record eighth championship ended with just one lap remaining in Stage 2. Johnson cut a tire and crashed in Turn 4 on Lap 149, bringing out the first caution flag of the day. Johnson entered the race in last in the playoff standings and needed a win to advance to the championship race at Homestead. He’ll will have to wait until next season to surpass NASCAR Hall of Famers Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty on the all-time championships list with eight titles.
Fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 10th in his second-to-last Cup Series race of his career. Earnhardt, winless since taking the checkered at Phoenix in 2015, will have an emotional week ahead of him as NASCAR says goodbye to another icon.