Kyle Busch Wins at Richmond, Playoff Battle Intensifies

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Jimmie Johnson(24), Chase Elliott(9), Erik Jones(20), and Denny Hamlin(11). These 4 drivers start the Federated Auto Parts 400 below the cut line for the first round of the NASCAR Playoffs. All 4 want to leave Richmond Raceway in the top 12 after this race. A 120 mph short track is enough to cause playoff anxiety. But, next week is the Roval at Charlotte. No one wants to have to crawl out of a points deficit hole at that track. The unknown is intimidating even to the best drivers in the world.

Chase Elliott Photo Credit: Robert Laberge / Getty Images

Hamlin starts 2nd, Jones starts 8th. The challenge will be a bit more difficult for Elliott and Johnson who start 18th and 21st. Kevin Harvick(4) won the pole. He starts on the front row next to Hamlin. Martin Truex Jr.(78) qualified 3rd fastest. Kyle Busch(18) starts 11th. Brad Keselowski(2), the winner of 3 in a row, takes the green flag in 7th. Stages at Richmond are 100, 100, and 200 laps. It’s a safe bet that pit-stop strategy will be critical in gaining track position. Who will race for the Stage points and who will position themselves for the race win. A guaranteed advancement to the next round regardless of points.

Kyle Busch brushed the wall during qualifying and his crew determined they needed to repair the damage. He was penalized for an unapproved adjustment and will start the race in 39th. Severely putting a damper on his effort to repeat his Richmond spring race win.

The Start

Harvick drove to the lead and led the first 40 laps of the race. Truex Jr. took over the top spot but could not drive away from Harvick.

Photo Credit: Robert Laberge / Getty Images

Some drivers opted to split the first stage in half and pit early. Although not a title contender, Ricky Stenhouse  Jr.(17) choose that strategy. With fresh Goodyears, Stenhouse could easily pass cars running on worn tires. He misjudged his closing rate on Hamlin and spun the 11 car sideways coming out of turn 4. Somehow Hamlin managed to save the car and straighten it out. However, the slide damaged his tires and he was forced into the stop at halfway pit cycle.

Truex Jr. held off several charges by Harvick and went on to win the Stage. Keselowski worked his way into 3rd. Hamlin recovered to finish in 9th place. All 100 laps in the stage were run under the green flag.

Stage 1 Results

Car Driver Stage Points
78 Truex Jr 10
4 Harvick* 9
2 Keselowski* 8
9 Elliott 7
41 Kurt Busch* 6
10 Almirola* 5
20 Jones 4
88 Bowman 3
11 Hamlin 2
22 Logano* 1

* Ford Fusion Drivers

Stage 2

Truex Jr., Harvick, and Aric Almirola(10) exited the pits 1-2-3. Keselowski had trouble with the right front tire change and dropped out of the top 10. Jones crew dropped the rear jack screw adjustment tool. He was forced to restart from the rear of the field in 24th place.

With no cautions in Stage 2, it was line up and drive. The Stage ended the same way it started with Treux Jr. getting his 2nd Stage win of the evening.

Stage 2 Results

Car Driver Stage Points
78 Truex Jr 10
4 Harvick* 9
10 Almirola* 8
9 Elliott 7
2 Keselowski* 6
88 Bowman 5
3 Austin Dillon 4
48 Johnson 3
42 Larson 2
22 Logano* 1

* Ford Fusion Drivers

The Final Stage

During the Stage ending pit stops, Truex Jr.’s crew had an uncontrolled tire. The penalty sent him to the tail end of the field. Truex Jr. restarted in the 20th position. Elliott led the field off pit road and led when the race went back to green. Keselowski overcame his earlier pit issues and took the lead on Lap 214.

Keselowski Leads Photo Credit: Sean Gardner / Getty Images

On Lap 287, Kyle Busch took the lead. It took Busch that long to work his way from the rear of the pack at the start to the top spot. Busch drove out to a 4-second lead and lapped all but 12 cars as green flag pit stops approached

The First Caution for an On-Track Incident.

On Lap 325, Jeffrey Earnhardt spun exiting Turn 2 and brought out the caution for the first on-track incident of the night. The yellow flag allowed the leaders to pit under caution and everyone get fresh tires and enough fuel to finish the race.

The race restarted with 68 laps to go. Kyle Busch led Harvick, Keselowski, Elliott, and Almirola to the green flag. With 58 laps to go, Keselowski drove around Kyle Busch to take the lead. Four in a row, at this time of the year, would be an unbelievable accomplishment.

Race to the Checkered Flag

Kyle Busch hung to the rear bumper of Keselowski. He repeatedly drove up beside the winner of 3 in a row until he was able to regain the lead with 37 laps to go. Busch’s car seemed to come alive as the laps mounted. Keselowski’s car began to fade and Harvick passed him with 29 laps to go. By the time Harvick moved into 2nd he was over 1.5 seconds behind Kyle Busch.

With 20 laps to go the margin from 1st to 2nd remained consistent. Keselowski continued to fade and Truex Jr. moved into 3rd. The “Big 3” were the top 3. Working through lapped traffic Harvick cut the deficit to under a second. But, he could never get to the rear bumper of Busch who scored his 7th victory of the season to match Harvick. More importantly, Busch punched his ticket into the next round of the playoffs.

Photo Credit: Robert Laberge / Getty Images

The victory was Busch’s 50 all-time on the Cup circuit. He passed Tony Stewart and is now tied for 11th most with Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson.

Playoff Picture

The top 12 finishers were all Playoff drivers. Kyle Busch and Keselowski are on to the next round with wins. So is Truex Jr. based on points. Harvick is virtually assured to move on and should easily clinch next week. Everyone else is potentially in danger. Ryan Blaney(12) sits on the cut line, 4 points ahead of Clint Bowyer(14). Alex Bowman is only 1 point clear of Blaney, Elliott and Austin Dillon(3) sit tied 10 points out of the final Playoff spot.

Bowyer, 4 points back, and Johnson, 6 back, both have a realistic chance of racing themselves into Round 2 on points. Jones, 21 back, and Hamlin, 29 back, will likely need a win to move forward. Jones had a decent run, finishing 11th, and still lost 2 points to the cut line. That is how competitive the Playoffs are.

Erik Jones Photo Credit: Robert Laberge / Getty Images

Playoff Standings With One Race to Go in Round One

Position Driver Points Behind Cut Line Playoff Points
1 Martin Truex Jr. 2141 Leader In-Points 38
2 Kyle Busch 2125 -16 In-Win 55
3 Kevin Harvick* 2113 -18 +57 50
4 Brad Keselowski* 2111 -30 In-Win 25
5 Joey Logano* 2081 -60 +25 14
6 Aric Almirola* 2079 -62 +23 1
7 Kyle Larson 2073 -68 +17 5
8 Kurt Busch* 2071 -70 +15 14
9 Chase Elliott 2066 -75 +10 8
10 Austin Dillon 2066 -75 +10 5
11 Alex Bowman 2061 -80 +5 0
12 Ryan Blaney* 2060 -81 +4 7
13 Clint Bowyer* 2056 -85 -4 15
14 Jimmie Johnson 2054 -87 -6 0
15 Erik Jones 2039 -102 -21 5
16 Denny Hamlin 2031 -110 -29 3

*Ford Fusion Drivers

 

 

 

Results of The Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway

Position Car Driver Behind Laps
1 18 Kyle Busch 400
2 4 Kevin Harvick 0.777 400
3 78 Martin Truex Jr. 5.761 400
4 9 Chase Elliott 6.591 400
5 10 Aric Almirola 7.478 400
6 3 Austin Dillon 7.727 400
7 42 Kyle Larson 8.583 400
8 48 Jimmie Johnson 8.960 400
9 2 Brad Keselowski 10.573 400
10 14 Clint Bowyer 10.642 400
11 20 Erik Jones 11.391 400
12 88 Alex Bowman 14.056 400
13 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 15.100 400
14 22 Joey Logano -1 399
15 31 Ryan Newman -1 399
16 11 Denny Hamlin -1 399
17 19 Daniel Suarez -1 399
18 41 Kurt Busch -2 398
19 12 Ryan Blaney -2 398
20 24 William Byron -2 398
21 1 Jamie McMurray -2 398
22 21 Paul Menard -3 397
23 38 David Ragan -3 397
24 34 Michael McDowell -3 397
25 6 Matt Kenseth -4 396
26 51 Cole Custer -4 396
27 43 Bubba Wallace -5 395
28 13 Ty Dillon -5 395
29 47 AJ Allmendinger -6 394
30 37 Chris Buescher -6 394
31 95 Regan Smith -6 394
32 72 Corey LaJoie -7 393
33 15 Ross Chastain -8 392
34 32 Matt DiBenedetto -9 391
35 0 Joey Gase -12 388
36 99 Landon Cassill -13 387
37 96 Jeffrey Earnhardt -13 387
38 23 Alon Day -17 383
39 66 Timmy Hill -18 382
40 52 Gray Gaulding -111 289

Playoff Drivers in Bold