This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.
Martinsville Speedway hosted the Xfinity 500 Sunday, the race that would decide which three remaining playoff drivers would line up alongside Kyle Larson to race for the season championship at Phoenix. Hendrick Motorsports teammates Larson and Chase Elliott dominated the first half of the race, but each suffered mistakes in the final segment, setting set up a tense scramble at the front of the field among the championship contenders in the final laps as drivers jockeyed for an advantage. Denny Hamlin appeared to have the race in hand, but several late restarts kept others in touch. That competition proved to be too much, as close racing with Alex Bowman in the final laps sent Hamlin spinning out of the lead, putting Bowman in the driver's seat to navigate one final restart to grab his fourth win of the season. Kyle Busch finished second, which wasn't enough to keep his championship hopes alive, and he joined the three Team Penske teammates in being eliminated from the championship fight.
Larson, Elliott, Hamlin, and Martin Truex Jr. left Martinsville as the final four playoff drivers left standing as the 2021 championship is set to be decided this week. Elliott and Truex each have one title on their resumes, while a win Sunday at Phoenix would be the first for Larson or Hamlin. Truex won at the track earlier this year, though the Hendrick cars have closed the gap on these types of tracks in the second half of the year. The 2021 NASCAR