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Elliott advances to Championship 4 after strong stage finishes at Martinsville
Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott lead the field to the green flag during the running of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Xfinity 500 on Oct. 30, 2022, at Martinsville Speedway. (Photo by Jeff Robinson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

While most viewers of last Sunday’s penultimate NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Martinsville Speedway were enthralled by the wall-riding heroics of Ross Chastain and another clutch victory by Christopher Bell, Dawson County viewers also savored the fact that Chase Elliott earned himself a spot in the Championship 4 after his own positive performance. 

“I thought it was a really solid day and we did what we needed to do,” Elliott said. “It’s nice to have a shot at the driver’s championship next week. I’m excited to get out there and give it our best shot to get another big trophy.”

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Elliott, who qualified on the front row for the Xfinity 500, was in a relatively tight points position coming into the final Round of 8 race.

Sitting in third place but just 11 points above the playoff cut line, Elliott needed to secure as many points as possible to fend off the chasing field. 

With the exceptions of his win at Talladega and runner-up finish at Bristol, the rest of Elliott’s playoff run had been marked by mostly competitive runs thwarted by either mechanical issues or late-race misfortune.

But for most of Sunday’s Martinsville race, Elliott was in championship form and had a car in contention for victory lane. 

Running well within the top-5 for over 450 laps of the race, Elliott finished each of the first two stages in second position behind determined Denny Hamlin.

One of the very few opportunities for a major change in track position came late in the race with 34 laps remaining when a caution flag was brought out.

While previous cautions had done little to change the racing order, this late stoppage was approached with different strategies.

 With playoff driver Chase Briscoe opting to stay out on the track under caution and others taking two tires or none at all, Elliott’s four-tire pit stop placed him at the edge of the top 10.

As a result, Elliott became caught up in a crowded bunch of drivers in that part of the track and was forced to drive defensively to avoid major contact — especially with Hamlin and Chastain jockeying for position around him. 

Eventually, both of those drivers passed Elliott, who unofficially finished in 11th position before a post-race disqualification of Brad Keselowski officially placed him in 10th. 

The two strong stage finishes helped give Elliott a 45-point day — good enough to finish just a handful of points above Hamlin in the playoff standings.

Hamlin, who needed to finish at least four positions better than Chastain to secure a spot in the Championship 4, was in that position on the final lap until Chastain moved from 10th to fifth to finish one spot ahead of Hamlin.

The four contenders for the 2022 NASCAR Championship at Phoenix Raceway will be Elliott, Bell, Chastain and Joey Logano. 

Elliott will be preparing for his third consecutive appearance in the Championship 4.

“We’re just trying to have a strong week of preparation. The spring [Phoenix] race was a long time ago and a lot has changed since then,” Elliott said. “I’m looking forward…to getting home first and thinking through everything. We’ll be ready to go come next weekend; I don’t have any doubt about that.”

The NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race will be at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6, and broadcast on NBC.