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The Art of Racing 9-8
'Throwback' a good idea
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One of the better moves NASCAR made was when it returned the Bojangles’ Southern 500 in Darlington back to the Labor Day weekend. Darlington calls it the “Throwback” weekend and many teams paint their cars to look like the paint schemes of old. Richard Petty drove his No. 43 Plymouth at the start of the pace laps and had to be black flagged for staying out too long. Looking at the huge grin on his face indicated just how much fun he was having.
The race was pretty dramatic as it went from daylight to darkness. Kyle Larson was the class of the field as he led 124 of the first 157 laps. Making contact with the wall caused a tire rub that ended his chance for a victory.
Martin Truex Jr. was the dominant car for the rest of the race as he made three on-track passes, tying Larson for the race high of laps led with 124. Pit strategy definitely changed the course of the race, especially when Denny Hamlin missed the entrance to pit road and had to go around the track before making his final pit stop. 
When he exited the pits in 14th place, it looked like Truex would pick up another victory. Truex was pushing his luck by not pitting for new Goodyear tires, but was managing to stay out front of Hamlin, who was on fresher tires. As Hamlin was closing the gap by a couple of seconds a lap, Truex’s old tires finally gave out with two laps to go. As Truex bounced off the wall, Hamlin went by and secured his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win of the season. Hamlin also won the Xfinity Series race the day before as he swept Darlington.
While Truex failed to win the race, he managed to limp around the track for the final two laps, finishing eighth.  With one race to go in the regular season, Truex has a 107-point lead over Kyle Busch and wins the regular season championship. That gives him an additional 15 playoff points, and with such a huge lead in playoff points, is all set to make a run to the final four at Homestead.
The final regular season race is tomorrow night in Richmond. Thirteen drivers have wins. That ensures their entry into the playoffs. The three remaining playoff slots are held by: Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth, and Jamie McMurray. However, if a playoff-eligible driver wins the race and is not among the 13 already in, the race for the final two spots becomes really close. Elliott leads Kenseth by 2 points and Kenseth is just 1 point ahead of McMurray.
There are still plenty of drivers with a solid chance to pull off a win and steal a playoff spot. Rookie Erik Jones heads into Richmond with a lot of momentum and in a Toyota, which has dominated most Richmond races in recent memory. Joey Logano won the spring Richmond race but a penalty caused the win to be encumbered and not eligible for the playoffs. 
Clint Bowyer has been in contention for a playoff spot all season long until a blown engine at Darlington knocked him out of contention, so he will need a victory to make the playoffs. Then finally, there is a retiring Dale Earnhardt Jr., who would like to go out with a bang.