The Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway was traditionally the final race of the regular season. Starting in 2018, it became the second race of the Monster Energy Cup Series playoffs.
By the end, Kyle Busch was in Victory Lane for the fiftieth time in his Cup career en route to sweeping both Richmond races, despite starting thirty-ninth.
Kevin Harvick started on the pole alongside Denny Hamlin, while Busch, David Ragan, Regan Smith, and Daniel Suárez started at the rear due to unapproved adjustments. In a surprise, Cole Custer, driving the #51 Ford for Rick Ware Racing with Stewart-Haas Racing support, qualified tenth.
Harvick led the race early as Hamlin quickly fell to Kurt Busch and Martin Truex Jr. Truex eventually caught up to Harvick and took the lead on lap 41 as they entered turn one.
On lap 53, Hamlin was clipped by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. off turn four but managed to save it; he pitted four laps later, falling from sixth to twenty-sixth and a lap down.
By lap 70, the entire top twelve consisted of playoff drivers as Truex led the way. The defending champ eventually pulled away to win his ninth stage of the year, ahead of Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch, Aric Almirola, Erik Jones, and Alex Bowman. Hamlin rebounded from his earlier save to finish ninth and record stage points, and Joey Logano rounded out the top ten.
During stops between stages, Truex won the race off pit road ahead of Harvick, while Jimmie Johnson and Jones suffered speeding and equipment violations, respectively.
Stage #2 began on lap 109 with Truex leading Harvick.
As the race crossed the 150-lap mark, various teams began making pit stops under green as part of an alternate strategy, including Logano, Stenhouse, Clint Bowyer, and Ryan Blaney.
Truex continued his domination as he won the stage, but Logano, Blaney, and Bowyer were able to get themselves back on the lead lap by passing him.
Elliott became the new leader following stops, while Truex had an uncontrolled tire penalty and was relegated to the tail end of the field.
The final stage commenced on lap 210 with Elliott and Harvick comprising the front row, but Harvick quickly lost second and third to Keselowski and Almirola, respectively. Four laps later, Keselowski moved up to the lead.
By lap 230, Ryan Newman was the lone non-playoff driver in the top ten. Elliott reclaimed the lead on lap 243.
On lap 265, other cars began pitting under green, with Logano and Newman suffering tire infractions and Paul Menard getting a commitment line penalty. Elliott and Keselowski pitted on lap 268 and Truex did so on lap 270, allowing first place to shuffle between the field before Keselowski retook the lead.
Kyle Busch took the lead from Keselowski on lap 286, which eventually grew to as large as three seconds. His brother Kurt pitted on lap 317, reporting a loose car but it was a scheduled stop. Blaney did the same shortly after.
On lap 325, Jeffrey Earnhardt spun in turn two while racing Matt Kenseth, hitting the outside wall.
The leaders pitted as Busch retained the lead for the lap 333 restart. After eight laps, Keselowski overtook him for first. The two drivers began battling for the lead, trading the position multiple times with Harvick in tow. With 20 laps remaining, Keselowski began to fall as Harvick and Truex passed him, while Busch remained at the front.
Although Harvick closed the gap, he could not catch the #18 as Busch scored his seventh win of 2018 and fiftieth career Cup victory. It is his sixth win at Richmond, joining the likes of David Pearson, Rusty Wallace, and Darrell Waltrip.
“That was too close for my comfort,” Busch stated in the post-race interview with NBCSN, “I thought we were a little better than that in the long run. I know Harvick, that’s kind of his specialty. We had a really, really good race car tonight.”
“Being able to start dead last, come up through the field and win this thing? That’s right, Rowdy Nation, all three of them, baby!”
Next week, the Cup Series visits Charlotte Motor Speedway‘s roval for the first time in history with the Bank of America Roval 400.