RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Kyle Larson and his Chip Ganassi Racing team snatched NASCAR’s last victory Saturday at Richmond before the start of the Monster Energy Cup playoffs.
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. That ties Truex for most in the Cup series this season.
“I’m really pumped for the playoffs, we’ve got a really good shot at the championship,” Larson said.
Truex, the regular-season champion, wrecked in overtime while racing for position. The entire sequence cost him what seemed to easily be his fifth win of the season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., meanwhile, was officially eliminated from the playoffs. He’s retiring at the end of the season.
Truex 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.
But Larson is hot too, and the Richmond win was his first at 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.
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.
Those drivers are Truex, Larson, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Ryan Newman, Kurt Bushc, Kasey Kahne, Austin Dillon, Kenseth and Jamie McMurray.