Three winless drivers – Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray – rounded out NASCAR’s Cup Series playoffs after Saturday night’s race at Richmond Raceway.
The trio join 13 drivers that had already clinched a spot in the 16-team postseason field with a win. The playoffs begin next week at Chicagoland Speedway.
A win in Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 would have clinched a playoff berth, but Kyle Larson took that chance away with his fourth victory of the season.
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Richmond pole winner Kenseth’s night ended early in the night’s oddest incident. When a NASCAR ambulance stopped on the apron near the entrance to pit road with 140 laps left, Kenseth ran into Clint Bowyer’s Ford as drivers tried to maneuver around the rescue vehicle to get to their stalls. The damage took Kenseth out of the race and would have knocked him out of the playoffs had there been a first-time winner.
“I saw an ambulance sitting there,” Kenseth said. “It was an accordion effect and I just couldn’t get stopped.”
Joey Logano and Bowyer, both needing a victory to make the playoffs, also suffered damage in the ambulance incident.
Logano ran in the top 10 much of the night but finished second, ending his playoffs hope. Bowyer finished 24th.
“It’s happened to us a few times at Richmond that we didn’t have a winning car and we won,” Logano said. “We almost did it again.”
Logano won at Richmond in the spring, but the result was “encumbered” by NASCAR when it ruled that Logano’s car had an illegal rear end. That meant it didn’t count for the playoffs and he lost playoff points as well.
Dale Earnhardt Jr, also officially eliminated from the playoffs, ran consistently in the top 10 Saturday but fell to 13th after the final restart. Earnhardt will retire full-time from racing at season’s end.
Regular season champion Martin Truex Jr., who won the most bonus points, will start the 10-race playoff run as the favorite to win the Cup championship and racing’s newest trophy, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup.
Truex and Larson led all drivers with four wins, worth five playoffs points apiece. Truex won a series-best 18 stages, worth one playoff point each. And his regular-season championship is worth another 15 points.
Truex, who clinched the regular-season NASCAR Cup title last week, came close to his fifth win Saturday. Truex was leading by more than two seconds before a late caution flag came out after Derrike Cope crashed into the wall with under four laps remaining. Larson took the lead on an overtime restart before Truex hit a wall himself after contact with Denny Hamlin.
“A caution for a guy who shouldn’t even have been out there,” Truex said about Cope. “It’s kind of ridiculous.”
Here is the 16-driver field, with seeding and points, according to NASCAR.com.
1. Martin Truex Jr.: 2,053 points
2. Kyle Larson: 2,033 points
3. Kyle Busch: 2,029 points
4. Brad Keselowski: 2,019 points
5. Jimmie Johnson: 2,017 points
6. Kevin Harvick: 2,015 points
7. Denny Hamlin: 2,013 points
8. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: 2,010 points
9. Ryan Blaney: 2,008 points
10. Chase Elliott: 2,006 points
11. Ryan Newman: 2,005 points
12. Kurt Busch: 2,005 points
13. Kasey Kahne: 2,005 points
14. Austin Dillon: 2,005 points
15. Matt Kenseth: 2,005 points
16. Jamie McMurray: 2,003 points
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