Martin Truex Jr. clinched the top spot as “regular season champion” at Darlington, one week before the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond closed the door on making it in for the late season run on the full Monster NASCAR Cup Championship.
The smile was forced in place post race at Richmond as Truex went from dominating to deep in the field from an overtime restart and a #78 wall crunch.
Competitors don’t like to lose – Even if they have already won…
Truex was leading. He had been for most of the race. Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch and pole sitter Matt Kenseth held the front at times but not like the Auto Owners Insurance #78. Kenseth started out strong but a misplaced emergency vehicle caused a smash up that left the #20 off the pace. Larson and Busch could get the lead but not hold on as Truex closed in to take over throughout the night.
With just a few laps to go, Derrike Cope in the StarCom #15 got the wall and the easy win lead of the #78 was thrown back to an outside line restart, green-white-checkered drag race with Larson in the #42. Larson got off an incredible jump and took the lead with Truex racing in behind. Contact with Denny Hamlin put the #78 nose first into the turn 1 wall on what shoulda-coulda-woulda been a double celebration for Truex.
Larson in the #42 Target Chevy got the win. Truex came away with sour words for the #15 driver and a pasted smile during the “celebration” of the regular season leader. Larson’s win and points has him just 20 ticks below Truex heading into the beginning round of championship racing. The #78 driver, if he had won at Richmond, would have had a broader points cushion moving forward.
50 points separate the 16th championship slot from the #1 seed Martin Truex Jr. Ten races remain with Homestead closing the season and crowning the 2017 Monster NASCAR Cup Champion. Drivers will be eliminated from contention as those 9 races lead up to the final.
It really is anybody’s season at this point. Richmond showed that the easy win can go away in a flash. Time will tell as we move forward and go racing!
Photo Gallery – Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway