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Kyle Busch won the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway in Henrico County, Virginia, on Saturday night to clinch a spot in the second round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
Busch held off the hard-charging Kevin Harvick to pick up the victory, while Brad Keselowski came in ninth to snap a three-race winning streak.
Here is a look at the top 10 finishers with full results available at NASCAR.com:
1. Kyle Busch
2. Kevin Harvick
3. Martin Truex Jr.
4. Chase Elliott
5. Aric Almirola
6. Austin Dillon
7. Kyle Larson
8. Jimmie Johnson
9. Brad Keselowski
10. Clint Bowyer
Because Busch’s team repaired his car prior to the race, he was forced to start near the back of the field in 39th.
Despite that, he earned his seventh win of the season and swept the Richmond races after winning the spring race at Richmond as well.
Here is a rundown of the playoff standings with one race remaining in the Round of 16, courtesy of NASCAR.com (points above/below cutoff in parenthesis):
1. Kyle Busch (clinched)
2. Brad Keselowski (clinched)
3. Martin Truex Jr. (clinched)
4. Kevin Harvick (+57)
5. Joey Logano (+25)
6. Aric Almirola (+23)
7. Kyle Larson (+17)
8. Kurt Busch (+15)
9. Chase Elliott (+10)
10. Austin Dillon (+10)
11. Alex Bowman (+5)
12. Ryan Blaney (+4)
13. Clint Bowyer (-4)
14. Jimmie Johnson (-6)
15. Erik Jones (-21)
16. Denny Hamlin (-29)
Both Busch and Keselowski are guaranteed a spot in the Round of 12 due to their wins over the past two weeks. The cars placed 13th through 16th in the standings after next week’s race will be eliminated from championship contention.
The first half of the race was largely dominated by Martin Truex Jr., as he took the lead on Lap 41 after Harvick led the first 40 laps:
NASCAR on NBC @NASCARonNBC
MTJ takes the lead away. We’re already 50 laps in at @RichmondRaceway! #TruexJr https://t.co/9PN7vT5xDn
Truex went on to win the first stage, and he followed that up by leading every lap in the second stage to win that as well.
The tide turned during the post-stage pit stops, as Truex was forced to go to the back of the lead lap as the result of an uncontrolled tire by his pit crew on pit road, according to ESPN’s Bob Pockrass.
Chase Elliott took advantage by winning the race off pit road to take the lead:
NASCAR on NBC @NASCARonNBC
A new leader as @ChaseElliott wins the race off pit road at @RichmondRaceway! He entered today below the cut line in the #NASCARPlayoffs, but can bail himself out with a win. #di9 https://t.co/NqtjgV6xXi
That lead was fairly short-lived, as Keselowski overtook him and put himself in position for his fourth consecutive win.
With Keselowski running so well over the past few weeks after struggling for much of the season, Kelly Crandall of Racer noted that he has been confident throughout:
Kelly Crandall @KellyCrandall
Listen, I’m not saying a team would sandbag through the year until the playoffs but what I am saying is two months ago when I asked winless @keselowski how he felt w/ the playoffs approaching he nonchalantly told me, “confident we’ll have what we need when we need it.” The 2 = $
The remainder of the race was primarily a battle between Keselowski and Busch, and Busch prevailed by passing Keselowski with 37 laps to go:
Keselowski raced aggressively to hold off Busch for as long as he did, and that clearly took a toll on his car.
The No. 2 dropped to the latter part of the top 10, and Keselowski told his team that he had worn out his rear tires while battling with Busch, per Lee Spencer of RacinBoys.com:
Lee Spencer @CandiceSpencer
“Smoked the rear tires off of it trying to hold onto the lead,” says @keselowski “Sorry.” #NASCAR P5
Harvick gave Busch some nervous moments in the closing laps when the No. 18 ran into some lapped traffic, but Harvick didn’t have enough left to make the pass.
With Busch comfortably in, the focus next week at Charlotte Motor Speedway will shift toward the bottom portion of the playoff race.
Alex Bowman and Clint Bowyer are barely clinging to spots in the top 12, with Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson in close pursuit.
Both Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin are well off the pace, but a win for either driver next week would move them into the next round automatically.
Regardless of who makes it and who doesn’t, it was apparent Saturday that the “Big Three” of Busch, Harvick and Truex along with the recently red-hot Keselowski are the drivers to beat down the stretch.