ADVANCING through the NASCAR Playoffs: Championship 4 set

Pat DeCola
·3 min read

Four drivers were eliminated from the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs after Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway, as the postseason field was trimmed for the final time from eight drivers to four.

Read on for a full update on the standings and results.

MORE: Race results

Eliminated drivers

Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Martin Truex Jr., No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Kurt Busch, No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
Alex Bowman, No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

Advancing to the Championship 4

1. Joey Logano, No. 22 Team Penske Ford
2. Chase Elliott, No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
3. Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Team Penske Ford
4. Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Finalgrid2020 Ncs Grid Martinsville 01
Finalgrid2020 Ncs Grid Martinsville 01

The ups

Chase Elliott dominated this race, leading a career-best 236 laps for the win — but it was almost all for naught. On a late pit stop, Elliott’s jackman was over the wall too soon and initially a penalty was called. This likely would have ended Elliott’s shot at the victory and the Championship 4, but upon review, the crew member knew to get back off pit road and behind the wall, resetting his position. Elliott’s quick-thinking teammate (along with a hefty dose of masterful driving) saved the day and sent him to Phoenix Raceway.

Is Joey Logano the favorite to win it all? After disappearing for most of the regular season after the break for the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2018 champ has put the pieces together in a big way, clinching his Championship 4 spot at Kansas Speedway two weeks ago and putting together a strong Round of 8. He was a headache to all trying to make it at Martinsville, battling at the front of the field all afternoon and finishing third. Kevin Harvick shockingly not making the Championship 4 and Logano being the most recent winner at Phoenix, he might be the guy everyone is trying to beat a week from now.

The downs

Harvick entered the race second in the playoff standings with a 42-point advantage, seemingly a lock to make it to Phoenix. Partway through Stage 2, the No. 42 of Matt Kenseth made contact with the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford and knocked the valve stem off the left-rear wheel, causing the tire to lose air. Harvick was then forced to pit from 25th on Lap 180 under green, putting him two laps down. He fought back all afternoon to get back on the lead lap and had a shot to point his way in at the end but just couldn’t make it stick. A last-ditch effort to move the No. 18 of Kyle Busch in the final stretch that spun them both saddled him eight points below the cutline for the playoff heartbreak.

— Denny Hamlin might have cause for concern. At several points during the race, his No. 11 Toyota was below the cutline — at one of his best tracks, mind you — and while his 11th-place finish was enough to propel him to a second straight Championship 4, it was his third non-top 10 in the last four races and sixth of the playoffs. He’s the defending winner of the Phoenix fall race, but it’s clear this team, the second strongest all season, isn’t hitting on all cylinders at the worst possible time.

As much of a shock as it was to see Harvick miss the Championship 4, it was a medium surprise to see Martin Truex Jr. fall short as well. The 2017 champ has been lights-out at Martinsville lately, but a loose wheel after a final stage pit stop necessitated another stop late in the stage to fix it relegated him to a 22nd-place finish. He had four finishes of 22nd or worse in the playoffs, coming off a streak of eight straight finishes of fourth or better to finish the regular season.

Next race

The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Phoenix Raceway for Sunday’s Championship 4 race — the Season Finale 500 (3 p.m. ET on NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).