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It’s all about the playoffs as the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series next turns to Richmond Raceway for Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400.

To say it has been an eventful week in the NASCAR realm would qualify as a gross understatement. Denny Hamlin announced he’s a serious contender after a checkered flag a week ago, Martin Truex Jr. reeled in the regular-season title and notable names like Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr. continue to sit on the outside looking in after a strange campaign producing winners such as Ryan Newman.

With so much at stake for so many drivers and teams, it doesn’t get much bigger than the sprint under the bright lights on Saturday night. Here is a look at everything to know about the event.  

           

Viewing Details

Where: Richmond Raceway

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET

Watch: NBCSN

Live Stream: NBC Sports

Tickets: StubHub.com 

             

Federated Auto Parts 400

  • AJ Allmendinger
  • Aric Almirola
  • Austin Dillon
  • Brad Keselowski
  • Carl Long
  • Chase Elliott
  • Chris Buescher
  • Clint Bowyer
  • Cole Whitt
  • Corey LaJoie
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  • Danica Patrick
  • Daniel Suarez
  • David Ragan
  • Denny Hamlin
  • Erik Jones
  • Gray Gaulding
  • Jamie McMurray
  • Jeffrey Earnhardt
  • Jimmie Johnson
  • JJ Yeley
  • Joey Gase
  • Joey Logano
  • Kasey Kahne
  • Kevin Harvick
  • Kurt Busch
  • Kyle Busch
  • Kyle Larson
  • Landon Cassill
  • Martin Truex Jr.
  • Matt DiBenedetto
  • Matt Kenseth
  • Michael McDowell
  • Paul Menard
  • Reed Sorenson
  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  • Ryan Blaney
  • Ryan Newman
  • TBA
  • Trevor Bayne
  • Ty Dillon

            

2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Standings

1. Martin Truex Jr. 1000
2. Kyle Larson 884
3. Jimmie Johnson 653
4. Kyle Busch 893
5. Brad Keselowski 761
6. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 536
7. Kevin Harvick 867
8. Denny Hamlin 785
9. Ryan Blaney 629
10. Kurt Busch 624
11. Ryan Newman 604
12. Austin Dillon 473
13. Kasey Kahne 464
14. Chase Elliott 737
15. Matt Kenseth 735
16. Jamie McMurray 734
ESPN.com.

              

Drivers to Watch

Martin Truex Jr.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Though atop the leaderboard a week ago, Truex sat in an odd spot considering he found himself in a position to claim the regular-season title despite a 21st showing in Bristol in mid-August before NASCAR took a break.

Truex didn’t need to do much in Darlington last weekend to secure said title despite the sloppy prior showing. 

He did much more than needed. 

Truex wound up winning the first two stages in Darlington, securing the title—and a blown tire is all that stopped him from stealing the checkered flag outright. 

“I was driving my guts out at the end trying to hang on,” Truex said, according to ESPN.com’s Bob Pockrass. “It’s unfortunate we blew the tire, but I’m really proud of everybody on this team for an amazing season so far.”

The seemingly unstoppable form by Truex as of late is bad news for other playoff hopefuls trying to better position themselves on the leaderboard. Ahead of the playoffs, he’s by far the driver to beat. 

          

Kyle Larson

Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Few drivers seem to have a chance at becoming NASCAR’s next big superstar thanks to Kyle Larson, the owner of three checkered flags this season. 

Larson has put on a show this year, taking a trip to Victory Lane as recently as mid-August at Michigan, with the brilliant finish one of NBC’s top moments of the year: 


A week ago in Darlington, he finished a ho-hum 14th, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. 

There, Larson put up a strong fight for most of the day, hence his leading 124 laps. He missed out on a stage win thanks to a slick move from Truex, but otherwise, it was a strong showing for a guy sitting second on a leaderboard sorted by points. 

A year ago, Larson finished second at this event. He’s assured a strong spot in the playoffs, though what is really important now is how the No. 42 Chevrolet retains his current form heading into the postseason. 

          

Denny Hamlin

DARLINGTON, SC - SEPTEMBER 03:  Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 Sport Clips Toyota, poses with the trophy in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on September 3, 2017 in Darlington,

Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

Like Larson, Hamlin led 124 laps a week ago. 

Unlike Larson, he took the win and stirred up a bunch of drama in the process. 

Hamlin started ninth and drove his way to the win, giving him four top-five appearances over his last five outings. If that isn’t intimidating enough for the rest of the drivers in the field, he also happens to be the defending champ at this weekend’s event. 

But the win wasn’t without controversy. According to ESPN.com, Hamlin failed an inspection on his suspensions after the win, docking him the five points for the win and 25 more on top, as well as an expected two-race suspension for crew chief Mike Wheeler.

None of this hurts Hamlin’s playoff bid thanks to his strong overall year. And after the win, he still remained upbeat about his chances. 

“Luck has kept us from championships in the past, and mistakes have kept us from championships in the past,” Hamlin said, according to Pockrass. “Not many times has it been performance. I think you’ve just got to put those two things together and prepare for anything that can get thrown to you.”

Drama aside, Hamlin has been one of the best drivers on the track all year, and it is clear from his last five outings he continues to build momentum toward a serious playoff push. Combine it all into one neat package, and Hamlin is by far the top name to watch on Saturday. 

             

Stats and info courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.  



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