MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Martin Truex Jr. was celebrating the victory that secured his spot as the first of the final four drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs when he heard the crowd roar, looked up at the big screen and saw two other playoff drivers jawing at each other on pit road.
"Oh, look, a fight," Truex said.
Indeed, Truex's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin was knocked to the ground in a confrontation with Team Penske's Joey Logano in the most intense action of an otherwise lackluster playoff race Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.
Truex earned a title-eligible spot in NASCAR's championship race for the third consecutive year by leading 464 of the 500 laps, the most led laps in a win since Kyle Petty's 484 in 1992 at Rockingham Speedway. The Nov. 17 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway will follow playoff races at Texas Motor Speedway and ISM Raceway near Phoenix, and now seven drivers are jockeying for three spots.
There were just three lead changes, and Truex controlled the event from the first round of pit stops, when he beat Hamlin back onto the track for the lead. He was hardly challenged at all, coasting in the No. 19 Toyota Camry to his first career victory at NASCAR's shortest track.
"We're going to Homestead again, and that was what we tried to accomplish this weekend," Truex said. "We don't have to worry about points anymore. We can just get to work on our Homestead car."
A win automatically sends a driver to the next round, so Truex is locked in while Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Logano are currently above the cutline due to their points. Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson are the bottom four among the eight remaining playoff drivers.
Elliott, whose Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet Camaro experienced a catastrophic mechanical failure, finished 36th in the 38-car field.
For Truex, the win was redemption from a year ago at Martinsville, where he raced Logano cleanly over the closing laps but Logano snatched the win away and then won the season championship.
"After last year, everybody wants to keep talking about last year, and I'm like 'We've got work to do,'" said Truex, who won the 2018 title with Furniture Row Racing, which shut down after that season.
As he celebrated Sunday, though, the crowd's focus turned to pit road, where Hamlin and Logano were having what appeared to be a civil conversation. Hamlin wagged his finger at Logano, then Logano placed his hand on Hamlin's shoulder somewhat flippantly as he walked away. Hamlin chased after him, crew members got in the way and Hamlin was knocked to the ground.
"It was a discussion. I understand him coming over and talking; standing there and having a discussion with him, everything was fine," Hamlin said. "I think he didn't get me agitated enough. So he said something and then pokes a little bit and then runs away trying to get me to come so he could hide behind his guys. He's just not that tough. And he won't stand face to face. That's just his style.
"It was civil, and then like Joey does, he does a little push and then runs away. He said, 'Do you want to go?' I said 'Yes, I'm here' and then he runs away."
For good measure, Hamlin did an imitation of Logano that was picked up on the big screen and brought the crowd to its feet in approval.
Logano said the incident stemmed from on-track contact when Hamlin shoved Logano into the wall and caused a cut tire.
"I just wanted to talk to him about it and was pretty frustrated. He just kind of came off the corner like there wasn't another car on the outside of him and ruined our day. A shot at the win for sure," Logano said. "Maybe shouldn't have shoved him there at the end. I honestly just wanted to see what he was going to say, and he really wasn't apologetic at all.
"That's more frustrating when someone is like that, isn't it? When someone wrecks you and he's like, 'Meh.' That's not really what I was going for there."
William Byron, Brad Keselowski, Hamlin and Blaney rounded out the top five, while Kurt Busch was sixth and followed by Harvick, Logano and Larson.
Kyle Busch finished 18th, which would have been worst among the playoff drivers if not for Elliott's trouble.
Elliott had to start at the back of the field because of an engine change Saturday, but he worked his way inside the top five until he stopped for routine service. His car lurched as he pulled away and he radioed to his crew that he believed he had a broken axle.
He returned to pit road for lengthy attempts at a repair before he finally drove to the garage for more intense work. It dropped him to last in the field by the end of the second stage, and when he returned to the race he was down 52 laps.