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NASCAR

Kyle Larson took home the win in the last race of the regular season. (Photo: Getty Images)

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Bizarre.

That’s the best way to sum up Saturday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale at Richmond Raceway. The Federated Auto Parts 400 decided the 16 drivers who will run for the championship but it wasn’t easy.

Actually the playoff picture didn’t have as much intrigue as hoped with the same three drivers holding the final three spots – Matt Kenseth, Chase Elliott and Jamie McMurray – hanging on after the checkered flag fell.

Kenseth made it despite getting into an accident coming to pit road when an ambulance was in the way, triggering an accordion-style accident that ended up damaging his car to the point of elimination. Oddly the spring Richmond race also had an issue with an ambulance on track too soon.

Martin Truex Jr. appeared ready to add win number five to his total until Derrike Cope scraped the wall, causing a caution flag and setting up an overtime restart. Kyle Larson took advantage of the situation to grab the lead and when Denny Hamlin got into Truex Jr., who then went into the wall, it was Larson standing in Victory Lane with the dramatic win.

Not surprisingly Truex Jr., who criticized the Cope caution being called, wasn’t the happiest person at the track when he received the regular season championship trophy from NASCAR president Brent Dewar.

So although the playoff grid remained unchanged and the drama of “who’s in, who’s out” was limited, Saturday night’s trip to Richmond turned out to be memorable. Even if some of the memories were for the wrong reasons.

  • Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Clint Bowyer and Erik Jones gave it their best but all four failed to get into the playoffs. The quartet needed to win Saturday night in order to have a berth and all threw everything they could at the goal but came up short with Logano coming the closest in second place. There’s some star power out of the title run but it gives a chance to some drivers who weren’t favorites coming into the year a chance to grab the spotlight.
  • Whether it’s fair or not there were more than a few raised eyebrows after Brad Keselowski’s elongated post-race burnout when he won Friday night’s XFINITY Series race. While spectacular in nature and most fans ate up the spectacular smoke show, in the aftermath of the week’s penalty and post inspection talk everything is under the spotlight. It’s not like teams have instructed drivers to tap walls, swerve and even make contact with another car in order to reset chassis set-ups to make it through inspection. So even in what might have been an innocent display of jubilation, the possibility lies Keselowski was trying to hide something. NASCAR by no means wants to become the No Fun League, as the NFL is known by some for tamping down celebrations, but on the other hand the sanctioning body is under extreme pressure to keep law and order in the inspection process. 
  • It’s somewhat sad to think Richmond will no longer be the final race of the regular season and the cut-off to the playoffs. Since the Chase debuted in 2004, the Virginia short track has hosted the last chance to run for the championship. While not every year has produced iconic moments, there was just something about the short track Saturday night feel at Richmond to set the table for the playoffs. Next year Indianapolis takes over with a Sunday slot, putting the regular season finale up against NFL opening weekend. It will be very interesting to see how that all works out. The good news for Richmond and its legion of fans is the .75-mile track slides back into the playoff schedule providing some much needed short track action to the last 10 races.
  • The MRN family lost one of our own over the weekend with the passing of Paul Horvath. “Paulie” was a member of the network for decades and part of the “Pennsylvania Posse.” He was one of the many behind-the-scenes people that make up the very fabric of MRN and there literally wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do when needed. If I had a Dover or Pocono pit road assignment on a hot afternoon there was Paul, making sure I had cold water or an umbrella if Mother Nature decided to open the skies. I’m blessed to have a lot of characters in my life and Paulie was one of the best in every sense of the road. His positive motto in life was “Have Some Cake.” True words from a very sweet man. RIP Paulie and Salud!

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

 

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