Kyle Larson has won the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway; the final race of this year’s regular season before the playoffs begin next week at Chicagoland. The driver of the #42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet took advantage of a late-race caution to usurp previous leader Martin Truex Jr after taking the lead on pit-road and holding it on the final restart.
Further back, Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray earned themselves the final three playoff positions based on their points tallies. It was a tense race for all three as they waited to see whether a surprise new winner would push them down the playoff grid, but that threat never materialized; meaning that all three will be in contention for the championship.
As the race entered its final few laps, Martin Truex Jr looked on course to take a fifth victory of the season in the #78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota Camry. He had a comfortable lead of over four seconds on Larson behind him, but with three laps to go that gap was annihilated. Derrike Cope had brought out the caution after brushing the wall in the #15 Chevrolet, meaning that the field was not only bunched back together for a two lap sprint to the finish, but they’d also need to make another pit-stop for fresh rubber.
It was during that crucial pit-stop that the #42 Chip Ganassi Team came to the fore. They had Larson serviced much faster than Truex was, meaning that Kyle would take the lead off of pit-road and would have the best shot on the restart.
As expected, Larson didn’t let the opportunity slip away. Truex tried to challenge on the outside line as the green flag flew again, but Larson had the advantage on the inside and surged away with less than two laps remaining.
With his chance of victory now gone, Truex then had to turn his attention to fending off the #11 Joe Gibbs Racing car of Denny Hamlin. The Virginia-native was desperate to get by – perhaps too desperate. As the pair entered the braking zone for turn one on the final lap, Hamlin got into the back of Truex and got him loose. Truex tried to correct the slide, but his Camry suddenly found grip and shot up the track and into the outside wall. Thankfully, he was unhurt in the wreck, but he would have to limp his badly bruised car home to a disappointing twentieth place finish.
With the wreck taking place just after Larson had started the final lap, the ensuing caution ended the race. Larson would cross the line under yellows to take his fourth win of the season. The result will be a massive boost to the #42 team, especially for the pit-crew; who did such a superb job under pressure during the final stop that saw Larson elevated to the race lead.
“I’ve got the greatest team out here and definitely the best pit crew,” Larson said in victory lane, “That showed tonight. I can’t thank those guys enough. They were money all night long to gain spots. This win is a huge congrats to them. The Target Chevy was pretty good all night. The No. 78 (Truex) was definitely the best, but I thought I was second best for most of the runs.
“I’m really pumped for the playoffs. We’ve got a great shot at the championship, I feel like, this year. So I’m looking forward to it.”
Joey Logano managed to weave his way through the late-race melee between Truex and Hamlin to take a strong second place in the #22 Team Penske Ford, but it was one place short of what he needed to make the playoffs. He will not advance to the championship sixteen, with his encumbered win back in the Richmond Spring race proving the fatal blow to his title aspirations for 2017.
Denny Hamlin‘s collision with Truex lost him two positions to Ryan Newman in the #31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet and Kurt Busch in the #41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. Denny would at least hold on to a top five finish, but he was disappointed with his performance at his home-track and would take responsibility for the incident on the last lap during post-race interviews.
It was a strong night for rookies Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez, but sadly not as strong as either needed it to be. Both needed victory at Richmond to advance to the playoffs as they were outside the top sixteen, but sixth and seventh place respectively was as high as they could go. Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch would be just behind the pair in eighth and ninth, with Chase Elliott earning himself a spot in the playoffs thanks to his tenth place finish.
Further back, Dale Earnhardt Jr‘s last shot at making it to the playoffs in his final year in the NASCAR Cup Series didn’t result in a fairytale finish. The former winner at Richmond tried an alternate strategy in the late stages, but it would only earn him a thirteenth place finish. Jamie McMurray, on the other hand, would hold on to his playoff position thanks to his fourteenth place finish in the #1 Chevrolet.
Matt Kenseth had a tough night in the #20 JGR Toyota Camry. It started off so well from pole position, with Kenseth leading for much of the first stage of the race. However, a bizarre situation under caution on lap 255 put him out of contention for the victory. The field was pitting under the yellow flag, but an ambulance was still on track and parked at the pit-entry. Drivers had to take avoiding action, with Kenseth being caught out by the slowing car of Clint Bowyer ahead of him.
Kenseth would smack into the back of Bowyer’s Ford, earning Matt irreparable front-end damage. He would retire from the race soon after, but thankfully for him, he was able to hold on to his playoff position thanks to his points advantage over the challengers behind him.
So after twenty-six races, Martin Truex Jr emerges as the regular season champion, however, the overall 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship trophy is now just ten races away from the sixteen championship contenders.
Martin Truex Jr, Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Kasey Kahne, Austin Dillon, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray will be your championship contending sixteen. Look out for a full playoff preview, along with the regular race preview, prior to the next race next weekend at Chicagoland.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – 2017 Federated Auto Parts 400 race results:
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