The last race of the regular season, dubbed Fan Appreciation Weekend, started with the beloved four-wide salute to fans. For those readers unfamiliar with the salute, it consists of the field fanning out and performing 2-3 pace laps four-cars-wide instead of the typical 2-wide. It’s just one of the many ways NASCAR shows their appreciation for the tens of thousands of devoted fans that watch on TV or online or travel the country to see live races. Unfortunately, this is where the excitement stopped for a good portion of the night.
The first stage only saw two cautions – the first on Lap 36 when Landon Cassill blew a tire and smacked the wall in Turn 1, and the second on Lap 88 when leader Matt Kenseth checked up and started smoking. Although the smoke didn’t last long, NASCAR decided to throw the caution to in case there was oil on the track. Kenseth lost the lead on pit road and his teammate, Kyle Busch, who went on the win the stage.
There weren’t any cautions in Stage 2, which allowed drivers to run full out and race each other hard without any interruptions. Regular Season winner Martin Truex Jr was dominate in this stage (surprise, surprise) and captured his 18th stage win of the season.
While the last stage was the longest of the night, it truly didn’t get interesting until the second half when the caution flag flew on Lap 257. Danica Patrick, driving the #10 car sponsored by her own clothing line – Warrior by Danica – was having one of her best races this season. She was running in the 11th position when the #3 of Austin Dillon blatantly spun her out by clipping the right-rear quarter panel of the #10 in Turn 1. Patrick managed to keep the car out of the wall and drove away with minimal damage. However, the car didn’t run the same afterward and she went on to finish 23rd, one lap down. Meanwhile, soon to retire Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran one of the best races he has so far this year.
During the Lap 258 pit stop, there was an emergency vehicle parked on the entrance to pit road when the pits opened. None of the drivers were able to see the vehicle until they were practically on top of it. The unforeseen and highly unnecessary traffic jam caused the #14 of Clint Bowyer to aggressively brake, whereupon Matt Kenseth rear-ended Bowyer. This resulted in both cars occurring significant damage. While Bowyer was able to continue the race, the hit was so bad for Kenseth that he had to go to the garage and this is where his amazing run abruptly ended. Despite finishing in the 38th position, Kenseth still made it into the playoffs via points.
The action ramped up again at the very end when Derrike Cope hit the wall with 3 laps to go and made the race go into overtime. While all of the leaders pitted, Kyle Larson didn’t take fuel like the other drivers, which made him first off pit road. On the restart with 2 to go, Kyle Larson and Truex Jr made up the front row. While Truex put up his best fight, he tangled with Denny Hamlin in Turn 1 and the race ended under caution with Larson taking home the win.
Joey Logano, who needed to win this race to make it into the playoffs, stormed from 10th to 2nd on the restart and was chasing down Larson quickly when the caution came out. Sadly, Logano missed the playoffs this year but still has 10 races to pull off a win this season.
The Playoffs consist of 16 drivers to run for the championship. This year, the drivers are:
- Martin Truex Jr – 4 Wins
- Kyle Larson – 4 Wins
- Kyle Busch – 2 Wins
- Brad Keselowski – 2 Wins
- Jimmie Johnson – 3 Wins
- Kevin Harvick – 1 Win
- Denny Hamlin – 2 Wins
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr – 2 Wins
- Ryan Blaney – 1 Win
- Chase Elliott – 0 Wins
- Ryan Newman – 1 Win
- Kurt Busch – 1 Win
- Kasey Kahne – 1 Win
- Austin Dillon – 1 Win
- Matt Kenseth – 0 Wins
- Jamie McMurray – 0 Wins
The Round Of 16 begins at Chicagoland Speedway next week. Get your tickets HERE!