Another NASCAR Cup Series driver has locked up a spot in the Round of 12. Martin Truex Jr., the driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry held off teammate Denny Hamlin at Richmond Raceway on Sept. 11 and won his fourth race of the year.
Hamlin won the first two stages of the race, continuing to stack playoff points for the Round of 12. He led 194 of the first 273 laps on Sept. 11 while holding off Truex, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell, and several other playoff drivers. However, he lost the lead to his teammate during the third stage and had to work on gaining back some ground after the green flag pit stops.
Truex built up an eight-second advantage over Hamlin after making a pit stop three laps earlier than his teammate. He then proceeded to maintain his tires for the remaining 50 laps. Hamlin gained ground with fresher tires and a faster car, but he could not quite catch up. Truex won by 1.5 seconds and celebrated a major moment in his career after rebounding from a start penalty on the opening lap of the race.
The win capped off a huge day for Johnny Morris and the Bass Pro Shops teams. Noah Gragson won his second consecutive race earlier in the day, holding off Justin Haley in the Go Bowling 250 Xfinity Series race. He reached Victory Lane in the Bass Pro Shops/TrueTimber/Black Rifle Coffee Chevrolet Camaro. Hours later, Truex took Bass Pro Shops to Victory Lane after winning the Cup Series race.
Michael McDowell Continued to Struggle After Darlington Crash
The driver of the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford Mustang entered the race at Richmond Raceway 20 points below the cut line. He crashed early in the Cook Out Southern 500 and finished last in the 37-car field. This finish forced him to fight for points early in order to avoid elimination.
The early portions of the Richmond race did not play out well for the driver of the No. 34. He received a penalty for speeding on pit road and had to take an extra lap past his pit box. This penalty dropped him a lap behind and into 30th place, where he remained for a considerable amount of time.
According to the Wood Brothers Racing account, McDowell had another issue during the break after Stage 2. He reportedly collided with the No. 21 Ford Mustang of Matt DiBenedetto, causing damage to both stock cars. The NBC Sports broadcast did not show the collision but noted that McDowell sat 44 points below the cut line with one stage remaining in the race.
The Cup Series veteran only continued to struggle during the final stage. He received two more penalties for speeding, sending him back down pit road multiple times. McDowell fell four laps down with less than 90 laps remaining in the Richmond race, ensuring that he would finish outside the top 25 once again.
Non-Playoff Drivers Impressed at Richmond
There were several playoff drivers that fell at least one lap behind the leaders during the final stage of the Sept. 11 race. Aric Almirola, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Alex Bowman, and William Byron made up the majority of the group and kept them around or below the cut line.
While the playoff drivers struggled to keep pace with Truex, Hamlin, Joey Logano, and the other leaders, some drivers ineligible for the points turned in strong performances. Ross Chastain and Austin Dillon both raced in the top-10 with fewer than 30 laps remaining.
Chastain impressed during the playoff-opening race at Darlington by fighting for the lead late and locking up third place. He continued this trend at Richmond, locking up stage points in all three segments. Chastain finished Stage 1 in the sixth position and then Stage 2 in the seventh. He continued battling throughout the final segment, running with the leaders as the remaining laps dwindled. Chastain finished seventh overall, his eighth top-10 finish of the year.
Dillon, on the other hand, had to make up ground early after starting near the middle of the pack. He finished Stage 1 in the 16th position and then moved up to 15th in Stage 2. However, he raced his way into the top-10 during the final segment. Dillon maintained his hold on the 10th position for the final laps while battling with Kyle Busch. He ultimately finished 11th overall, ahead of several playoff drivers.