After a fast start to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff stretch, race teams were looking forward to Richmond Raceway as a race to bounce back into contention and further advance themselves in the point standings. Martin Truex Jr, with Joe Gibbs Racing, has the clear advantage in the early goings after securing the first win of the playoffs at Las Vegas. This automatically advances him into the next round and allows him the chance to earn extra points toward the championship title.
Brad Keselowski was the pole sitter on Saturday night and led the field to the green flag. Keselowski was able to hold a comfortable lead while everyone else battled behind him. Martin Truex Jr. moved into second and began to reel in Keselowski when Keselowski ran into lapped traffic, allowing Truex Jr. to catch up. Truex Jr. made the pass on Keselowski on lap 54 and was able to run away with the lead and win stage one.
Kyle Busch won the race off pit road, restarting stage two with the lead. Shortly after the green flag waved, Alex Bowman brought out the first caution of the night after making contact with Austin Dillon. Busch continued to dominate the second stage of the race, putting several playoff drivers a lap down and winning stage two.
Kyle Busch jumped out to the lead bringing the field to the green flag in stage three. His lead continued to increase while everyone filed in behind him. A debris caution came out on lap 242. Brad Keselowski brought the field to the green flag after winning the race off pit road. Martin Truex Jr. followed closely behind. On lap 282, Truex Jr. was able to complete the pass on Keselowski, returning to the lead. During the green flag pitting cycle, Truex Jr was spun out by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Truex Jr fell back to third after the caution. Kyle Busch continued the race with the lead on the restart. Truex Jr. was able to bounce back after the caution and retake the lead with 25 laps to go. This final pass on Kyle Busch was all he needed as he was able to bring home the victory. Martin Truex Jr. sweeps in Richmond for the Federated Auto Parts 400 win.
It is clear to see who the early favorite is to win the championship this year. Martin Truex Jr. has been able to finish the job in both playoff races so far. He handled business in a clean manner last week in Las Vegas and was able to get dirty in Saturday night’s race in Richmond. Being able to overcome the late spin from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was key for him. Usually, a wreck like that will tear away the momentum from a driver. But, Martin Truex Jr. just got back in line, to race his teammate Kyle Busch for the win. He showed a lot of perseverance and guts to win, and that is what champions are made of.
Next week’s race is the first-round cut off race, making it a race not to be missed. The Charlotte Roval will host an intense, unnerving race to decide who will advance into the next round of the playoffs. Erik Jones sits in a must-win position. Alex Bowman, Clint Bowyer, and Kurt Busch will need to race well on Sunday in order to advance.