RICHMOND, Va.—Kyle Larson and his Chip Ganassi Racing team needed a break—and it came with two laps to go.
Running second to a dominant Martin Truex Jr. and itching for fresh tires and a shot at victory in overtime, Larson got it when Derrike Cope's car hit the wall, bringing out the seventh yellow flag of the night.
Larson grabbed the lead on pit road and sailed to the victory.
“I guess we stole the win, I guess you could say, or our pit crew, I felt like, stole the win because they got me off as the leader,” Larson said.
The victory was his fourth of the season, tying Truex for the most this year.
“I'm really pumped for the playoffs, we've got a really good shot at the championship,” Larson noted.
“I've got the greatest team out here and definitely the best pit crew," he added. ”They were money all night long to gain spots.
“This win is a huge congrats to them.”
And to the 58-year-old Cope, who was starting his 13th race of the season and hasn't finished better than 31st. He was 38th at Richmond.
Truex, who clinched the regular-season NASCAR Cup title last week, had the race easily in hand until Cope crashed with under four laps to go.
Truex then wrecked in overtime while racing with Denny Hamlin for position.
“A caution for a guy who shouldn't even have been out there,” Truex said about Cope.
“It's kind of ridiculous.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. officially was eliminated from the playoffs with a 13th-place finish.
He's retiring at the end of the season and has never won a Cup title.
Earnhardt stayed out during late green-flag pit stops, briefly assuming the lead with 66 laps to go, but the caution that could have made the strategy pay off never came.
“That's what we needed at the moment and we didn't get it,” Earnhardt said.
“It was the only shot we had.”
Truex still will start the 10-race playoff stretch as the favourite to win the championship because he earned the most bonus points during the regular season.
He and his Furniture Row Racing team were presented with the regular-season championship trophy.
The reward is a slew of bonus points, but Truex feigned a smile because he'd have preferred to have the race winning trophy, too.
“Tonight is a little tough, it's a little hard to be excited,” he conceded.
He's also got to watch over his shoulder for Larson, who now has a nice bit of a momentum going into the opening round of the playoffs at Chicagoland.
“This has been a dream season for me but we still have a long way to go,” Larson stressed.