Several drivers came into the race weekend at Richmond Raceway with their playoff position unclear. While Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth started the race well ahead in points, a new winner could’ve thrown everything out the window.
Richmond’s race, however, did not see a new winner, and the three drivers mentioned above maintained their spots in the playoffs, but not without some drama.
Of the three, Kenseth ran the best during the race. He seemed to be in contention for the win throughout most of the night after starting on the pole and leading 89 laps. However, on a weekend where anything can happen, a bizarre pit road incident left his playoff hopes in the balance.
Following a caution on Lap 257, an ambulance was wrongfully deployed on the track and sitting on the edge of the entrance to pit road as the pits opened to the lead lap drivers. Many drivers made evasive moves to avoid the ambulance, and in doing so, Kenseth slammed into the back of Clint Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford. The damage to Kenseth was too severe for the team to fix and he would end his night in the garage finishing 38th. While Kenseth had plenty of points to make the playoffs, had a new winner arose, his playoff hopes would be gone.
The new winner that Kenseth dreaded almost happened when Joey Logano, who was in a must-win situation, came within one position of scoring that elusive win. Logano finished second to winner Kyle Larson after a wild late-race restart that took out dominant driver Martin Truex, Jr.
Logano wasn’t the only driver in a must-win situation who contended late. By way of pit strategy, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. hoped to turn a 10th-12th place car into a winning car. It didn’t happen for him and he would finish 13th, and miss the playoffs in his final race as a full-time driver. Rookie Erik Jones, who was strong all race long, finished just outside the top-five in sixth after missing a shift on the final restart, ultimately ending his shot at the playoffs.
Now, with 10 races remaining in the season, the playoff field is finally set. The grid contains championship favorite Truex along with Larson, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Ryan Blaney, Elliott, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch, Kenseth and McMurray.