A late-race caution spoiled a dominating performance by Martin Truex Jr., who led a race high of 198 laps and enjoyed a comfortable lead with three laps remaining in Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway.
With more than a three-second lead it appeared for all practical purposes that Truex was on his way to claim his fifth victory of the year in the regular season finale. But when the No. 15 car (Derrike Cope) scraped the wall on Lap 397 of the scheduled 400-lap race, NASCAR called a caution that sent the race into overtime.
During the caution all the leading cars pitted for fresh tires. Truex was beaten off of pit road by Kyle Larson and was forced to restart second in the non-preferred outside lane for the two-lap dash to the checkered flag.
Larson grabbed the lead for good on the restart, and to make matters worse, Truex took a hard race-ending hit on the last lap by the No. 11 car of Denny Hamlin, sending Truex’s No. 78 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota into the wall and a 20th-place finish.
Needless to say Truex, who was officially crowned the regular season champion with a post-race trophy presentation, was not pleased with the late-race caution.
“Our Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota was the class of the field by far,” said Truex. “Very disappointing on the way the race ended for us. The No. 15 really doesn’t belong out there. I just think that’s ridiculous that a guy could cause a caution as bad as he was running and just riding around there basically just making laps. I’m not really happy about what happened. It spoiled a dominating performance again by our team. It’s just a shame we got beat out of the pits. Our car was never good on restarts all night long so we were kind of a sitting duck out there.”
Regarding the incident with Hamlin, Truex said, “I know he didn’t do it on purpose, that stuff happens.”
Truex did win the second stage, his 18th of the season. He picked up one playoff bonus point for the stage win, lifting his playoff point total to 53. He will start the 16-driver playoffs next Sunday (Sept. 17) at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. as the No. 1 seed with 2053 points. Larson is second with 2033 points and Kyle Busch third with 2029.
“Obviously I think it’s a good thing that we have them (playoff points), and I think we could have used them last year with the way the playoffs worked out for us,” stated Truex. “We need to focus on running as strong as we possibly can and keep the momentum going that we’ve had lately. Cars have been just lightning fast and teams have been doing a great job. We’ve got a few little things to work on, but all in all, I feel like we’re definitely one of the strongest teams. Hopefully we can just continue to perform at the level we’re capable of, and we don’t need those bonus points, but it’s going to be nice to have them, that’s for sure.”
Following Larson to the checkered flag were: Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, and Chase Elliott.
There were 13 lead changes among seven drivers and seven cautions for 38 laps.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!