Kyle Lar­son rides late cau­tion, su­perb pit stop in Rich­mond win

Cecil Whig - - SPORTS - By REID SPENCER NAS­CAR Wire Ser­vice

RICH­MOND, VA. — A cau­tion on Lap 397 of a sched­uled 400 in Satur­day night’s Fed­er­ated Auto Parts 400 turned what looked like a corona­tion for Martin Truex Jr. into an un­ex­pected over­time vic­tory for Kyle Lar­son, as the field of 16 driv­ers was set for the Mon­ster En­ergy NAS­CAR Cup Se­ries Play­offs.

Truex, the reg­u­lar sea­son win­ner, had a com­fort­able lead over Lar­son when Der­rike Cope brushed the out­side wall with three laps left in reg­u­la­tion. Lar­son won the race off pit road af­ter the lead-lap cars pit­ted for tires, and the driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing pulled away from a restart on Lap 403.

One lap later, con­tact be­tween the Toy­otas of Truex and Denny Ham­lin sent Truex’s No. 78 Camry rock­et­ing into the Turn 1 wall, and the race ended un­der cau­tion with Lar­son in the lead and Joey Logano, who needed a win to qual­ify for the post­sea­son, rolling home in sec­ond place af­ter mak­ing the most of a restart from the ninth po­si­tion.

“I’ve got the great­est team out here and def­i­nitely the best pit crew,” Lar­son said. “That showed tonight. I can’t thank those guys enough. They were money all night long to gain spots. This win is a huge con­grats to them. The Tar­get Chevy was pretty good all night. The No. 78 (Truex) was def­i­nitely the best, but I thought I was sec­ond best for most of the runs.

“It came down to the last restart there, and I got a good start. I spun my tires pretty bad, and I was a lit­tle ner­vous, but we cleared him (Truex) into (Turn) 1, and I was pretty ex­cited about that. I’m re­ally pumped for the play­offs. We’ve got a great shot at the cham­pi­onship, I feel like, this year. So I’m look­ing for­ward to it.”

Lar­son’s vic­tory en­sured play­off spots for three driv­ers fight­ing for berths on points – Chase El­liott, Jamie McMur­ray and Matt Kens- eth. The night was par­tic­u­larly tense for Kenseth, who dam­aged the nose and ra­di­a­tor of his car be­yond re­pair com­ing to pit road on Lap 255.

An am­bu­lance stopped on the apron near the pit road en­trance forced driv­ers to take eva­sive ac­tion, and Kenseth’s car plowed into the rear of Clint Bowyer’s Ford, do­ing ir­repara­ble dam­age. Kenseth fell out of the race af­ter 257 laps and had to wait un­til Lar- son’s vic­tory elim­i­nated the pos­si­bil­ity of an­other unique win­ner – a cir­cum­stance that would’ve elim­i­nated Kenseth from the play­off.

Logano ran one spot short of the vic­tory he needed to make the play­off, af­ter his April win was en­cum­bered be­cause of a penalty for a rear sus­pen­sion in­frac­tion.

“Yeah, you said it, came up a lit­tle bit short over­all,” Logano said. “Yeah, it stings a lit­tle bit. Last time we were sit­ting here af­ter a race, it was af­ter a win, and this time it’s af­ter a sec­ond, which over­all if you look at our Rich­mond (record) for a sea­son with the two races, you’d say, that’s pretty good, a first and a sec­ond.

“But just over­all, ob­vi­ously it stings to come up one spot short and not be able to get into the play­offs. It is what it is. It’s re­al­ity, and we will move on.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran con­sis­tently in the top 10 through­out his fi­nal run at Rich­mond in the No. 88 Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports Chevro­let but fell to 13th in the melee of the fi­nal restart.

Ryan New­man came home third, fol­lowed by Kurt Busch, Ham­lin and Erik Jones, who was try­ing to force his way into the play­off with a vic­tory. Jones ran as high as third but lost po­si­tions on pit road on his last two stops and didn’t have the speed to make up the dif­fer­ence.

El­liott fin­ished 10th and McMur­ray 14th. Based on those runs, both driv­ers would’ve se­cured play­off berths af­ter Kenseth fell out, even if the race had pro­duced a new win­ner.

Note: Truex won the sec­ond stage of the race and in­creased his play­off point to­tal to a se­rieslead­ing 53… Lar­son passed ninth­place fin­isher Kyle Busch for sec­ond place in the fi­nal reg­u­larsea­son stand­ings and earned a 10-point bonus to bring his play­off point to­tal to 33. Busch gets an eight-play­off-point bonus for fin­ish­ing third in the reg­u­lar sea­son and en­ters the post­sea­son with 29 play­off points.

GETTY IMAGES FOR NAS­CAR

Kyle Lar­son cel­e­brates in Vic­tory Lane af­ter win­ning the Mon­ster En­ergy NAS­CAR Cup Se­ries Fed­er­ated Auto Parts 400 at Rich­mond Race­way on Satur­day in Rich­mond, Va.

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