RICHMOND, Va. — Martin Truex Jr. seemed to have a pinch-me moment Saturday night as he climbed from his car in victory lane at Richmond Raceway.
Nudged off the lead with 87 laps to go, Truex rallied, ultimately passing Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch with 25 laps to go and winning his second consecutive NASCAR Cup Series race. That it came in the playoffs, it seemed, made it all the more surreal.
"To spin and win is pretty incredible. I've never done anything like that in my life," said Truex the 2017 Cup Series champion. "When things are rolling, they just are."
The victory completed a redemptive finish for Truex, the championship leader coming into the race. The bump from Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who was running on fresher tires, seemed inadvertent, and came in the fourth turn, but Truex was still running third when the caution flew.
He gradually reeled in his teammate, got a nudge from Busch as he passed and pulled away.
"I think anytime you're winning at this level, there's a little bit of a pinch-me feeling," Truex said. "Look, this is really, really difficult. These races are hard to win. You've got to have some things go your ways sometimes, and we've certainly had that the last two weeks."
The victory was his series-high sixth of the season and the 15th in 28 races for the JGR cars. The team initially finished in the top four spots, a first for the company, with Busch hanging on for second followed by teammates Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones.
However, Jones was later disqualified when his Toyota failed inspection after the race due to a rear-wheel alignment problem, dropping him to 38th place and severely damaging his chances of advancing to the second stage of the playoffs.
Busch, who has now gone 14 races since his last victory on June 2 at Pocono Raceway, was not surprised that Truex caught up to him.
"We led a lot of laps. We were up front a lot. But when I was out front, he could keep the closest distance to me," Busch said of Truex. "That kind of worried me for a finish like that in the long run."
Pole-sitter Brad Keselowski moved up to fourth with Jones' disqualification, and every driver that finished behind him moved up one spot on the final grid, and in the two in-race stages, where Jones had been ninth in the first stage and fourth in the second.
"We just weren't quite as fast as the Gibbs cars," said Team Penske's Keselowski, who had the highest-finishing Ford.
Truex swept the season at Richmond, where his victory in April was his first in 81 career starts on a short track.
Kevin Harvick and Busch, meanwhile, assured themselves of spots in the second stage of the playoffs, which begins after next weekend's race on the "roval" course at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Hamlin said he was not at all surprised by his team's domination.
"I think I knew that's who we were going to be racing when it was all said and done," he said. "The 19 just had such a strong car here on the long run over the last few years, we knew that was going to be the one to beat. Great team day overall. Great points day for us."
Ryan Newman, who squeaked into the playoffs, finished sixth.
Hendrick Motorsports' William Byron started the night ninth in points but finished 25th, and teammate Alex Bowman started the night 11th in points and finished 24th.
The four drivers most in danger of missing the next stage of the playoffs are Bowman, Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Jones, who are 13 through 16 in the points standings.