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NASCAR playoffs: Alex Bowman wins at Martinsville, Championship 4 set

NASCAR playoffs: Alex Bowman wins at Martinsville, Championship 4 set
Alex Bowman won the 2021 Xfinity 500 on Sunday in Martinsville, Va., but was previously eliminated from Championship 4 contention in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. File Photo by Mike Gentry/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 1 (UPI) -- Alex Bowman crossed the finish line first, but Martin Truex Jr. clinched the final spot in the Championship 4 at the 2021 Xfinity 500 at Martinsville Speedway, the second-to-last race in the Cup Series playoffs.

Bowman, who was previously eliminated from championship contention, led nine laps in the 501-lap race Sunday in Martinsville, Va.

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Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Truex and William Byron rounded out the Top 5 finishers.

"It's the eight best guys of the year trying to whittle it down to four," Truex told reporters. "You know it's going to be tight, close, every spot is going to matter.

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"Unless you're Kyle Larson, who won 30 races this year, it's going to be close. I mean, you know it's going to be close. You come down to Martinsville, you know it's going to be a nail-biter, which it was."

Truex, who also led nine laps, jumped from No. 6 in the playoff standings to claim the fourth and final spot. Larson, who clinched the top spot before the race, Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin earned the other three spots in the Championship 4.

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"Being the past champion, as Denny mentioned, I think the four most deserving teams are probably in the final four," Larson said. "I'm proud we were able to do it and look forward to battling everybody next week."

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Busch lost his fourth-place position in the playoff standings in the first two stages Sunday at Martinsville. Ryan Blaney, who started the race in the No. 5 playoff spot, finished 11th.

Larson finished 14th. Elliott and Hamlin finished 16th and 24th, respectively. Elliott, who won the first two stages, led a race-high 289 laps. Hamlin led 103 laps and Larson led 77 laps.

Larson led for the first 55 laps. He switched the lead three times with Elliott from laps 56 through 85. Truex, Joey Logano, Austin Dillon, Hamlin and Bowman also held leads. Bowman turned Hamlin's car on lap 493 to take the final lead.

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NASCAR's Cup Series Championship is at 3 p.m. EDT Sunday at Phoenix Raceway in Avondale, Ariz.

"At the end of the day, having a shot next week is really all that matters," Elliott told reporters. "Frankly, I feel like you make it to Phoenix, it's anybody's game.

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"Getting out there and being a part of the final four is a really big deal. It's really hard to do. I'm really proud of my team for continuing to push through and battle some adversity."

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