Sunday, September 10, 2017

Kyle Larson wins final race of season; Kenseth, Elliott and McMurray make the playoffs

CREDIT: Carol D'Agostino for Skirts and Scuffs

By Carol D’Agostino

As the green flag waved for the Federated Auto Parts 400, all eyes were on Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski. Of course, there were more than a handful of fans wishing for a Cinderella finish for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Would Clint Bowyer win to get in the playoffs? Would Joey Logano take the win, and with it earn redemption for his spring encumbered win? Or would Brad Keselowski sweep the weekend?

The laps of the season closer started clicking off during long green runs when the race took an odd turn. A caution came out on Lap 255 for an incident between Danica Patrick and Austin Dillon. Then one of one of the more bizarre moments in NASCAR racing happened. Pit road opened and an ambulance was just sitting on the apron in the commitment area of pit road.

The big loser in the confusion surrounding the ambulance was Matt Kenseth, who ran into the back of the No. 14 car of Clint Bowyer. The mishap ended Kenseth’s night, after he started on the pole and led 89 laps. Bowyer was able to continue the race and finished in 24th.

In the closing laps, it looked like clear sailing for race leader Martin Truex Jr., who had the fastest car all night and took the lead on Lap 354 from Brad Keselowski. Then with 10 laps to go a caution came out when the No. 15 car of Derrick Cope hit the wall. Cars came to pit road, including Truex Jr. and Kyle Larson. Larson won the race off pit road.

In the final lap of the race, Truex Jr. crashed after contact with Denny Hamlin. Truex Jr. finished 20th after leading 198 laps.

This is Larson’s fifth win in 137 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, his fourth victory and 15th top-20 finish in 2017, and his first win and second top-10 finish in eight races at Richmond Raceway.

Does Larson think he stole the win from Martin Truex Jr.?

“Yeah, we definitely stole the win, or our pit crew stole the win, because they got me off (pit road) as the leader," Larson said. "Richmond and Martinsville are probably my worst racetracks, and you can throw Loudon in there, too. Historically these styles of tracks don't suit me. I can go really fast on the short runs at all these shorter flat tracks, but it seems like I struggle on the long run, which I did tonight, but it came down to a short run, and we got the win."

The NASCAR Monster Energy Series begins the playoffs next Sunday at Chicagoland.

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