Joe Gibbs Racing came into Richmond Raceway over the weekend as the organization to beat in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs and the results from the Federated Auto Parts 400 further backed up that claim.
JGR’s Martin Truex Jr. won his second consecutive event in the playoff round of ten races and was followed across the finish line by teammates Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones. It was the first time ever that the organization swept the first four finishing spots but that later was changed to a top-three finish for JGR as Jones’ car was disqualified causing NASCAR to take away his fourth place finish and dropping him to a 38th place finish.
The reversal in Jones’ fortunes were especially difficult as his fourth place finish dug him out of the hole in points he found himself in after wrecking the week before at Las Vegas. Gibbs still had plenty to celebrate on the night as Truex’s win gave him a sweep at Richmond and it was his sixth win of the season.
The race was a battle for most of the night between the JGR teammates as Busch dominated much of the race as his 202 laps in the lead was the most of any driver with Truex in second with his Toyota running at the point for 109 laps.
It looked as if Busch was in a position for the win as Truex was involved in a spin on lap 315 but suffered no damage as he was able to keep his car off the retaining wall. The spin did drop him back in the field but with the help of some good adjustments by his crew chief Cole Pearn, he was able to finally catch his teammate and make the final pass for the lead on lap 375.
Truex had already punched his ticket to advance to the Round of 12 with his win last week at Las Vegas and with his two playoff wins has now accumulated an impressive 41 bonus playoff points which is second only to Busch’s total of 46.
Kevin Harvick sits in second in total points followed by Busch in third and both of those totals are high enough that both drivers are locked in with Truex to advance into the next playoff round. While those three go to Charlotte knowing regardless of the results of the race they will be moving on, the same can’t be said for the rest of the sixteen-driver playoff field.
Only 20 points separate Ryan Blaney in 10th from 15th-place Kurt Busch. Blaney is eight points above the cutoff line followed by Aric Almirola (+3) and William Byron (+2). Alex Bowman is two points below the cutoff line followed by Clint Bowyer (-4) and Kurt Busch (-14). Jones’s disqualification at Richmond leaves him 45-points below the cutoff line forcing him to have to win in order to advance.
Ryan Newman’s fifth place finish at Richmond should give hope to his fellow playoff drivers who enter Sunday’s race on Charlotte’s Roval as he now sits in ninth in the standings after being the last driver to make the 16-driver playoff field. He entered Richmond six points below the cutoff line but his strong fifth place finish has him going to this weekend’s race 14-points above the cutoff line.
This will be the second race to take place on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval course which features an infield portion of turns but also uses the majority of the track’s mile and a half oval. Ryan Blaney won the inaugural race on the layout last season after Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson got together in the closing laps of the event.
It will be the first elimination race of this season’s playoffs which should make for a good one as every finishing positon gained or lost could be the difference from advancing or being eliminated.
Steve Mickey writes about NASCAR for H D Media.