Martin Truex Jr. Claims Spot in Round 2 of NASCAR Cup Playoffs With Win at Richmond

·6 min read
Photo credit: Jared C. Tilton - Getty Images
Photo credit: Jared C. Tilton - Getty Images

Two more drivers did well enough Saturday night at Richmond Raceway to advance into Round 2 of the four-round NASCAR Championship Playoff Series.

Regardless of what happens in next weekend’s 500-lap race at Bristol, Tennessee, five-time regular-season race winner Kyle Larson and Federated Auto Parts 400 winner Martin Truex Jr. are assured of advancing into the next round. That three-race series includes Las Vegas on Sept. 26, Talladega on Oct. 3, and the Charlotte Roval on Oct. 10.

Based on race victories and points, those races will reduce the Cup Series championship contenders from 16 to 12.

Denny Hamlin, winner of last weekend’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway and Saturday night’s runner-up at Richmond, had already advanced to Round 2. The local favorite from nearby Chesterfield, Virginia led xxx of the 400 laps and won the first and second stages, but was no match for Truex, a teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, down the stretch.

Truex's win on Saturday night was the 31st of his career and third at Richmond.

It was an eventful night for several Playoff contenders. In fact, even the race winner had an early issue that turned into much ado about nothing”.

Truex inherited the pole after Larson was sent to the rear for flunking two inspection passes. But Truex barely jumped the start, beating No. 2 starter Hamlin to the flag. He was immediately issued a drive-through penalty, which briefly put him at the end of the 37-car field and almost a half-lap behind.

Photo credit: Sean Gardner - Getty Images
Photo credit: Sean Gardner - Getty Images

“That was frustrating; I'm not going to lie,” the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said after his fourth win of the season. “But I knew we'd have a good enough car to overcome it. It felt pretty good the first couple laps. It’s just one of those things. You’ve got to put it out of your mind and you've got to go race. We knew there was a lot on the line tonight, so we’re very happy to get to do this and go to Bristol without any worries next week. That’s always fun.”

Kurt Busch lost the left-rear wheel on his Chevrolet, backed into the Turn 1 wall, was sidelined after just 40 laps, and finished a dead-last 37th. He fell to last in the 16-driver Playoff field and needs to win or get major help at Bristol to make Round 2. The good news: he’s won six times at the half-mile bullring, most recently in 2018.

“Something happened with that left rear,” the 2004 series champion said. “It let go. It let go of our points (he started the race fourth) and it let go of our whole season right now. I don’t know what we’re going to have to do at Bristol other than win. We’ve got to dig out of this hole and give it our best. It kind of sucks.”

Larson was dispatched to the rear of the grid for twice failing pre-race tech inspection. It might have been an irritant, but the official pole-starter easily overcame the penalty and eventually raced his way into the top-5. He stayed there most of the night, clinching his Round 2 spot by finishing sixth and scoring 14 stage points.

After leading much of the first half and seemingly the only driver to challenge Hamlin at the front, Chase Elliott fell a lap down and slipped into the high teens after a bad pit stop. But he had enough time to rally back to a fourth-place finish, and now looks fairly safe to get through to Round 2.

Playoff contender Christopher Bell had an uneventful night en route a quiet third-place finish and former champion Joey Logano was an unremarkable fifth. Ross Chastain was seventh, best among the drivers not in the Playoff field. Former champions Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch were eighth and ninth, with Austin Dillon, another driver outside the championship field, finishing 10th.

Playoff drivers Alex Bowman (12th), Brad Keselowski (13th), Aric Almirola (14th), Tyler Reddick (15th), William Byron (19th), and Michael McDowell (28th) had what can only be described as quiet, uneventful runs that did nothing to help their championship hopes.

NASCAR Cup Series Race

64th Annual Federated Auto Parts 400 Salute to First Responders

Richmond Raceway

Richmond, Virginia

Saturday, September 11, 2021

  • 1. (3) Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 400.

  • 2. (2) Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 400.

  • 3. (10) Christopher Bell (P), Toyota, 400.

  • 4. (13) Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 400.

  • 5. (6) Joey Logano (P), Ford, 400.

  • 6. (1) Kyle Larson (P), Chevrolet, 400.

  • 7. (17) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 400.

  • 8. (5) Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 400.

  • 9. (15) Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, 400.

  • 10. (8) Ryan Blaney (P), Ford, 399.

  • 11. (19) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 399.

  • 12. (12) Alex Bowman (P), Chevrolet, 399.

  • 13. (7) Brad Keselowski (P), Ford, 399.

  • 14. (9) Aric Almirola (P), Ford, 399.

  • 15. (11) Tyler Reddick (P), Chevrolet, 398.

  • 16. (26) Chase Briscoe #, Ford, 398.

  • 17. (22) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 398.

  • 18. (28) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 398.

  • 19. (14) William Byron (P), Chevrolet, 398.

  • 20. (24) Ryan Newman, Ford, 398.

  • 21. (31) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 398.

  • 22. (21) Cole Custer, Ford, 397.

  • 23. (23) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 397.

  • 24. (18) Chris Buescher, Ford, 396.

  • 25. (20) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 396.

  • 26. (30) Anthony Alfredo #, Ford, 396.

  • 27. (29) Justin Haley(i), Chevrolet, 396.

  • 28. (16) Michael McDowell (P), Ford, 395.

  • 29. (25) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 395.

  • 30. (32) BJ McLeod(i), Ford, 393.

  • 31. (36) Garrett Smithley(i), Chevrolet, 389.

  • 32. (27) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 388.

  • 33. (34) Joey Gase(i), Chevrolet, 387.

  • 34. (37) JJ Yeley(i), Chevrolet, 386.

  • 35. (35) Quin Houff, Chevrolet, 386.

  • 36. (33) Josh Bilicki, Ford, 385.

  • 37. (4) Kurt Busch (P), Chevrolet, Accident, 40.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 98.307 mph.

Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 3 Mins, 6 Secs. Margin of Victory: 1.417 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 5 for 30 laps.

Lead Changes: 21 among 8 drivers.

Lap Leaders: K. Larson (P) 0;D. Hamlin (P) 1-32;K. Busch (P) 33-36;D. Hamlin (P) 37-90;C. Elliott (P) 91-131;M. Truex Jr. (P) 132;K. Larson (P) 133-134;C. Bell (P) 135-137;D. Hamlin (P) 138-161;C. Elliott (P) 162-177;D. Hamlin (P) 178-179;C. Elliott (P) 180;K. Larson (P) 181-184;C. Bell (P) 185-186;D. Hamlin (P) 187-268;M. Truex Jr. (P) 269-296;C. Bell (P) 297-301;R. Chastain 302-305;K. Busch (P) 306-344;D. Hamlin (P) 345-347;K. Larson (P) 348-349;M. Truex Jr. (P) 350-400.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Denny Hamlin (P) 6 times for 197 laps; Martin Truex Jr. (P) 3 times for 80 laps; Chase Elliott (P) 3 times for 58 laps; Kyle Busch (P) 1 time for 39 laps; Christopher Bell (P) 3 times for 10 laps; Kyle Larson (P) 3 times for 8 laps; Kurt Busch (P) 1 time for 4 laps; Ross Chastain 1 time for 4 laps.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 11,9,22,5,12,42,2,19,4,10

Stage #2 Top Ten: 11,18,19,5,22,20,42,10,48,4

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