Larson Ends Regular Season with Dramatic Win at Richmond

Peter Casey/USA TODAY

RICHMOND, VA - RIS - Martin Truex, Jr.had dominated the Federated Auto Parts 400 NASCAR Monster Energy Series Cup race at Richmond International Raceway until Derrike Cope had problems with few laps to go, and a caution flag came out.  The leaders pitted and Kyle Larson came out of the pits first and Truex second.  The rest is history.  On the two-lap overtime finish, Larson moved passed Truex and Truex had more problems--pushing his car as hard as he could, teammate Denny Hamlin slid into the rear of Truex's car and Larson went on to win.

The drivers who needed to win the final race of the regular season at the Richmond Raceway made valiant efforts on Saturday night to get into NASCAR's playoffs. But the familiar faces that have been in the Top 16 for much of the season on points—Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth—are the same ones who will advance to the first round.

Despite his bad luck, Truex will enter the Playoffs with quite an advantage due to the new points system NASCAR enacted fo4r the 2017 season, dividing the races into three segments each called stages.  Truex won more stages than anyone else and won the regular season championship.

Despite winning the pole and leading most of the first stage, Kenseth almost didn't make it to the postseason that begins next weekend at the Chicagoland Speedway. He eked into the elite group of 16 as the last driver after a bizarre incident at the entrance of the pit road.

With 143 laps remaining, an ambulance stopped and nearly blocked the pit road during a caution as all the leaders pitted. The ensuing fender-bender among the race leaders left Kenseth with a broken radiator. He went from eighth place and comfortably positioned to advance to being parked behind wall and out of the race within minutes.

Kenseth had to wait and watch while sweating out watching Erik Jones, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Daniel Suarez try to advance by winning. Out of the points, they could have leap-frogged Kenseth and forced him out of the Top 16 with a victory.

Jones came the closest of those who needed a win to get in. The late caution he needed that put the race into overtime gave him an opportunity to restart in fourth place. But the rookie missed a shift on the final green flag.

"We would have needed to bully our way to get to the front," Jones said. "But I missed third gear."

In his final season, Earnhardt, Jr. failed to make the playoffs. His Chevy ran well, but his team needed to gamble on trying to catch a late caution as the race leader.

"If the caution comes out we would have had the track position we needed," he said.

Earnhardt, Jr., who ran in the Top 10 at times, said he liked the strategy and that his car would have been capable of staying in the front.

"It was great to be running among the leaders," he said.

In addition to the three drivers advancing on points, others who will vie for the championship include four drivers who also claimed multiple victories: Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Denny Hamlin. Drivers advancing with single victories are Kevin Harvick, Dave Blaney, Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon and Kasey Kahne.

Although he had already clinched the regular season championship with one race remaining and the 15 playoff bonus points that go with it, Truex, Jr. was not in a celebratory mood. Fellow Toyota driver Hamlin forced him into the wall in Turn 1 on the white flag lap.

"Tonight, was tough," said Truex, Jr., who blew a tire last week at the Darlington Raceway while leading with three laps to go. "It's a little hard to get excited."

Kenseth responded with class after climbing from his car in the garage.

"It was an accordion effect and I just couldn't get stopped," he said.

He pointed out that he and his team had slipped backwards due to chassis issues by time the incident took place. "We lost the handle on it and shouldn't have been back there anyway."

The Playoffs start at Chicagoland Speedway next week.  All drivers who qualify will race, but only those who are in the 16 payoff qualifiers are eligible to be crowned NASCAR Monster Energy Cup champion.

Unofficial Race Results for the 60th Annual Federated Auto Parts 400 - Richmond Raceway

Fin, Str, Driver, Car, St1, St2, Pts, Tms, Laps, Playoff Pts, Laps, Status
1) 4, Kyle Larson, No. 42 Target Chevrolet, 2, 6, 54, 3, 53, 5, 404, Running
2) 12, Joey Logano, No. 22 Shell Pennzoil/Red Cross Ford, 6, 4, 47, , , , 404, Running
3) 27, Ryan Newman, No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet, , 9, 36, 1, 4, , 404, Running
4) 3, Kurt Busch, No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford, 10, 8, 37, , , , 404, Running
5) 2, Denny Hamlin, No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota, , , 32, , , , 404, Running
6) 10, Erik Jones #, No. 77 SiriusXM Toyota, 7, 3, 43, , , , 404, Running
7) 16, Daniel Suarez #, No. 19 ARRIS Toyota, , , 30, , , , 404, Running
8) 20, Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet, , , 29, , , , 404, Running
9) 7, Kyle Busch, No. 18 M&M's Caramel Toyota, 1, 10, 39, 3, 38, 1, 404, Running
10) 9, Chase Elliott, No. 24 Mountain Dew Chevrolet, 9, , 29, , , , 404, Running
11) 15, Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Ford, , 5, 32, 2, 9, , 404, Running
12) 17, Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Great Clips Chevrolet, , , 25, , , , 404, Running
13) 21, Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 AXALTA Chevrolet, , 7, 28, 1, 13, , 404, Running
14) 11, Jamie McMurray, No. 1 McDonald's Chevrolet, , , 23, , , , 404, Running
15) 6, Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Jimmy John's Ford, 8, , 25, , , , 404, Running
16) 28, Michael McDowell, No. 95 FDNY Foundation Chevrolet, , , 21, , , , 404, Running
17) 23, Aric Almirola, No. 43 Smithfield Ford, , , 20, , , , 404, Running
18) 14, Ryan Blaney, No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford, , , 19, , , , 404, Running
19) 8, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 17 Fastenal Ford, , , 18, , , , 404, Running
20) 5, Martin Truex Jr., No. 78 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota, 5, 1, 33, 3, 198, 1, 403, Accident
21) 31, Austin Dillon, No. 3 DOWFROST Chevrolet, , , 16, , , , 403, Running
22) 32, Ty Dillon #, No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet, , , 15, , , , 403, Running
23) 19, Danica Patrick, No. 10 Warrior by Danica Patrick/HSN.com Ford, , , 14, , , , 403, Running
24) 13, Clint Bowyer, No. 14 Rush Truck Centers Ford, 3, , 21, , , , 403, Running
25) 18, Trevor Bayne, No. 6 Performance Plus Motor Oil Ford, , , 12, , , , 402, Running
26) 22, AJ Allmendinger, No. 47 Kroger ClickList Chevrolet, , , 11, , , , 402, Running
27) 29, David Ragan, No. 38 Camping World/Good Sam Ford, , , 10, , , , 402, Running
28) 26, Paul Menard, No. 27 Richmond/Menards Chevrolet, , , 9, , , , 402, Running
29) 33, * Corey LaJoie #, No. 83 Safeway/LaBella Hair Design Toyota, , , 8, , , , 400, Running
30) 36, * Reed Sorenson, No. 55 Low T Centers Chevrolet, , , 7, , , , 400, Running
31) 25, Matt DiBenedetto, No. 32 EJ Wade Construction Ford, , , 6, , , , 400, Running
32) 24, Chris Buescher, No. 37 Nature Valley Chevrolet, , , 5, , , , 400, Running
33) 35, Cole Whitt, No. 72 TriStar Motorsports Chevrolet, , , 4, , , , 396, Running
34) 37, Jeffrey Earnhardt, No. 33 hulu Chevrolet, , , 3, , , , 395, Running
35) 34, Gray Gaulding #, No. 23 sweetfrog Toyota, , , 2, , , , 393, Running
36) 38, Derrike Cope, No. 15 StarCom Fiber Chevrolet, , , 1, , , , 388, Running
37) 39, * BJ McLeod(i), No. 51 Bubba Burger Chevrolet, , , 0, , , , 318, Transmission
38) 1, Matt Kenseth, No. 20 Hurricane Harvey Relief Toyota, 4, 2, 17, 1, 89, , 257, Accident
39) 30, Landon Cassill, No. 34 CSX Play It Safe Ford, , , 1, , , , 33, Accident
(i) Ineligible for driver points in this series, (#) Rookie, (*) Non charter team

Time of Race: 03 Hrs, 02 Mins, 52 Secs.
Average Speed: 99.417 MPH
Race Comments: Kyle Larson won the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway, his fifth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory. Prior to the green flag, no cars dropped to the rear of the field under penalty. 
Cautions: 7 for 38 laps: Laps: 36-40 (No. 34 Incident in Turn 1 [23]); 88-92 (Smoke [95]); 102-109 (Stage 1 Conclusion [32]); 202-209 (Stage 2 Conclusion [17]); 257-262 (No. 3 and 10 Incident in Turn 2 [43]); 398-402 (No. 15 Incident in Turn 4 [5]); 404-404 ( [None]).
Lead Changes: 13 among 7 drivers: M. Kenseth 1-89; B. Keselowski 90-92; Kyle Busch 93-104; R. Newman 105-108; Kyle Busch 109-110; K. Larson 111-129; Kyle Busch 130-153; M. Truex Jr. 154-257; K. Larson 258-286; M. Truex Jr. 287-334; D. Earnhardt Jr. 335-347; B. Keselowski 348-353; M. Truex Jr. 354-399; K. Larson 400-404.
American Ethanol Green Flag Restart Award:  Kyle Larson, No. 42 
Coors Light Pole Award:  Matt Kenseth, No. 20 122.421 mph
Ingersoll Rand Power Move:  Ryan Newman, No. 31 8 positions
Mahle Clevite Engine Builder of the Race:  Hendrick Engines, No. 42 
Mobil 1 Driver of the Race:  Kyle Larson, No. 42 
Moog Go the Extra Mile:  Ryan Newman, No. 31 crew chief Lucas Lambert, 0.072 seconds
Sherwin-Williams Fastest Lap:  Kyle Larson, No. 42 
Sunoco Rookie of the Race:  Erik Jones, No. 77

Ron Fleshman with John Davison

RIS NASCAR Editor.  Has been with RIS since the middle 90's. Writes on each of the three main series of NASCAR.

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Volume 2017, Issue 9, Posted 1:18 AM, 09.10.2017