Kyle Larson and his Chip Ganassi Racing team snatched NASCAR’s last victory before the start of the playoffs Saturday night at Richmond.
Martin Truex Jr. had the race easily in hand until Derrike Cope slowed with under four laps remaining. Larson was second at the time, itching for fresh tires and a shot at the win in overtime.
He took his Chevrolet to pit road, his Ganassi team got him out as the leader, and he held for his fourth victory of the season to tie Truex for the most this season.
“I’m really pumped for the playoffs, we’ve got a really good shot at the championship,” Larson said. “I’ve got the greatest team out here and definitely the best pit crew. They were money all night long to gain spots. This win is a huge congrats to them.”
Truex, the regular-season champion, wrecked in overtime while racing with Denny Hamlin for position. The entire sequence cost him what seemed to easily be his fifth win of the season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr was officially eliminated from the playoffs with a 13th-place finish. He’s retiring at the end of the season, and has never won a Cup title.
Truex will still start the 10-race playoff stretch as the favorite to win the championship because he earned the most bonus points during the regular season. He and his Furniture Row Racing team were presented with the regular-season championship trophy.
The reward is a slew of bonus points, but Truex only feigned a smile because he’d have preferred to have the race winning trophy, as well.
“Tonight is a little tough, it’s a little hard to be excited,” Truex said.
He’s also got to watch over his shoulder for Larson, who now has a nice bit of a momentum going into the opening round of the playoffs at Chicagoland.
The Richmond victory was Larson’s first on a short track in the Cup Series.
“This has been a dream season for me, and we still have a long way to go,” Larson said,
Chaos erupted with 140 laps remaining because one of NASCAR’s rescue vehicles clogged the entrance to pit road as cars headed to their stalls. As the traffic bottlenecked, Matt Kenseth ran into the car in front of him, and his night was ended with a crumpled hood.
“I saw an ambulance sitting there,” Kenseth said. “It was an accordion effect and I just couldn’t get stopped.”
He had to watch from the infield because his playoff fates were taken out of his hands. Clint Bowyer, a driver who had to win to get in to the playoffs, might as well has had his night ruined, too. He suffered enough damage in the accident that his car was essentially eliminated from winning contention.
Joey Logano also suffered damage in ambulance incident and because his win earlier this year was disqualified from playoff consideration, he had to win Saturday to make the playoffs.
“Last time we were sitting here after a race, it was after a win,” Logano said. “Obviously it stings.”
UP NEXT: The opening round of the 10-race playoffs Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. There will be 16 drivers at the start of the playoffs, and the field will be cut by four after the third race of the series.