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The 2017 NASCAR Cup Series regular season came to an end Saturday night with Kyle Larson stealing a thrilling win in overtime in the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway.
Martin Truex Jr. was in the lead with two laps to go when Derrike Cope went into the wall, bringing out a yellow caution flag. That gave the rest of the field time to compose itself, close the gap on Truex and try to make one final push for victory.
Denny Hamlin made incidental contact with Truex while making a turn, causing the No. 78 car to spin out. Larson had a fantastic restart coming out of pit road for his second victory in the last four races.
Here’s how the top 10 looked after the checkered flag dropped in Virginia, courtesy of NASCAR.com:
1. Kyle Larson
2. Joey Logano
3. Ryan Newman
4. Kurt Busch
5. Denny Hamlin
6. Erik Jones
7. Daniel Suarez
8. Jimmie Johnson
9. Kyle Busch
10. Chase Elliott
Even though the end result wasn’t what Truex was looking for, he still has the regular-season NASCAR points title.
Truex and Kyle Busch each earned one bonus playoff point for winning the first two stages. Busch climbed up from the seventh starting spot to take the first stage, though he was locked in a battle for the lead with Kyle Larson.
Oh, this is good.
The battle for the playoff point is getting intense! https://t.co/pg7aUMaZ2t
Truex was part of revolving door that featured seven different leaders. He began the day in fifth place and was hanging around the top of the leaderboard, including winning the bonus playoff point on the second stage, throughout the race.
Just as notable as Larson’s win were the three drivers who clinched the last three spots in the Cup Championship Playoffs.
Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray started the day in those final three playoff slots, and that’s where they ended up after the race was over.
Kenseth seemed poised to leave no doubt about his spot. He started first after winning the pole Friday, but his car wasn’t cooperating as his position continued to drop the deeper into the race he got.
.@mattkenseth has dropped back to P7.
Find out why from the @NASCARonNBC crew. https://t.co/Qllmn5cxWE
Things continued to spiral downward for Kenseth. Per ESPN’s Bob Pockrass, he was knocked out of the race after running “into the back of Clint Bowyer in the logjam as an ambulance was stopped at the entrance to pit road…”
Pockrass also noted Kenseth would miss the playoffs if a driver in a “must-win situation” won Saturday. The good news is Larson was already in the field, so the No. 20 car was able to remain in the playoff field.
Here’s the incident that knocked Kenseth out of the race:
NASCAR on NBC @NASCARonNBC
Matt Kenseth heads to the garage after damage while drivers scrambled to avoid a safety truck!
#NASCARonNBCSN #NASCARPlayoffs https://t.co/HIXVJtYfsD
Bowyer was the closest contender on the outside, trailing McMurray by 91 points. He gave himself a steep mountain to climb after finishing 13th in qualifying and never got it going during the race with a 24th-place finish.
The door would briefly open for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who needed a miracle to make the playoff field. He was 202 points behind McMurray for the final spot, though he put pressure on the competition by taking the lead on the 334th lap when most of the leaders went into the pit area.
This hasn’t been the final season Earnhardt envisioned when he announced this would be his last year as a full-time NASCAR driver. The 42-year-old hasn’t finished higher than 12th in a race since June, so this was a huge moment for the No. 88 car.
After a 13-lap lead, though, Brad Keselowski passed Earnhardt for the top spot. Earnhardt would eventually have to pit himself, dropping all the way back to 20th place with less than 40 laps to go, though he did work his way back up to 13th at the end.
Late drama aside, the stage is now set for NASCAR’s postseason. Jimmie Johnson is the defending champion, though he’s had a down season by his standards with three wins and eight top-10 finishes in 26 races.
Truex has been the most consistent driver all year with four victories and 17 top-10 finishes. He also earned 18 stage wins to open up a 17-point lead in playoff points over Busch.