The night began with a four wide parade lap salute to the fans at Richmond Speedway. Pre-race anticipation reached new heights for the drivers without a qualifying win to lock up a playoff spot. Kyle Busch(18) won Stage One of Saturday nights’ Federated Auto Parts 400. Martin Truex Jr.(78) won Stage Two and was the dominate car of the evening. Truex led 198 of the 404 laps run. But all eyes were on the last three playoff spots up for grabs. Would another first-time winner knock Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray, or Matt Kenseth out of qualifying for the playoffs based on season-long points?
Shortly after the start of the final stage Austin Dillon(3) tapped the rear end of Danica Patrick’s(10) car. The contact sent her spinning and brought out the caution flag.
One of the strangest incidents of the year occurred as the field came to pit road. An ambulance exiting the infield suddenly stopped just before the entrance to the pits. Driver’s running on the apron of the track to enter the pits suddenly had to swerve to dodge the emergency vehicle. The line of cars stacked up and several were forced outside of the legal commitment zone.
NASCAR waived any penalties that would have been issued as a result of the commitment violations. The ambulance driver had not followed NASCAR race control instructions and should not have been in a position to impact the race. Unfortunately, the incident had a significant bearing on Matt Kenseth’s(20) night. Kenseth led for most of Stage One and remained near the front all night. His strategy to at least finish ahead of the other two points contender would put him in the playoff.
During the ambulance fiasco, Kenseth ran into the back of Clint Bowyer(14) and damaged the radiator in the 20 car. Going behind the wall and ultimately out of the race meant Kenseth would be the driver eliminated if a non-winner took the victory.
Erik Jones(77), Bowyer, Dale Earnhardt Jr.(88), and Joey Logano(22) all challenged at the front of the field coming to the final laps. But, Truex’s dominance snuffed out every potential contender. Until three laps from the finish Derrike Cope(15) brushed the wall and brought out the caution.
Everyone on the lead lap came to pit road for tires. Exiting the pits three driver’s needing a win lined up in the top 10. Jones restarted fifth, Daniel Suarez(19) seventh, and Logano 10th. Jones had driven into the top 5 repeatedly and looked to have the best chance at grabbing a win if trouble struck the leaders. As the final green flag dropped Jones missed a gear and jumbled the front of the pack.
Kyle Larson(42), first out of the pits, jumped to the lead. Denny Hamlin(11) tangled with Truex, sending the 78 into the wall and securing the win for Larson. Logano weaved his way through traffic and finished second. But still out of the playoffs. Kurt Busch(41) finished in fourth. the Fords of Brad Keselowski(2) and Kevin Harvick(4) finished 11th and 15th.
With all 16 playoff positions locked in here is what the standings will look like heading into Chicagoland Speedway for the first race in the round of 16.
|1||Martin Truex Jr.||2053|
|8||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||2010|
Race time next Sunday 3:00 pm Eastern.