The buildup to the chaos began with a turn-five crash between Aric Almirola and Chris Buescher with 40 to go, bringing out the yellow flag right outside the fuel window and sending all the leaders down pit road and into fuel-conservation mode.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. assumed the lead on the ensuing restart, but it was Brad Keselowski who came charging through the field to take command, passing Paul Menard for the top spot with 35 laps left and holding a determined Kyle Larson at bay through the closing stages.
Keselowski and Larson waged war for the point with 28 to go, seeing Larson get through briefly before Keselowski sliced right back past, but they settled in as the laps began to click off and finally began to save fuel coming up on the 10 to go mark, when they carried a 15-second margin over Truex.
However a caution with eight to go, when Stenhouse crashed at the entrance to turn one, changed everything. That bunched the field up on older tires and set the stage for a game-changing restart.
The green flag waved with six to go, and entering turn one, the field literally piled in.
Front-row starters Keselowski and Larson both overdrove the corner and crashed into the tire barriers, with 13 more cars smashing in behind them in a dramatic heap. Truex, from third, escaped with the lead over Johnson as a 14 minute, 27 second red flag arose for cleanup from the accident.
That crash led to the final three-lap sprint to the finish and the dramatic final corner, where Blaney won and Jamie McMurray drove through the smoke and carnage to finish a season-best second.
Clint Bowyer, Alex Bowman and polesitter Kurt Busch completed the top five in the finishing order.
Because he blew the final chicane, Johnson came to a complete stop just before the start-finish line, as mandated by NASCAR rules. He finished eighth and ended up in a three-way tie for 11th in the playoff standings.
Due to the tiebreaker, which centered on a driver’s best finish of the three-race round of 16, Johnson was the odd man out and eliminated from title contention. Larson was second at Las Vegas, and Almirola finished fifth at Richmond, while Johnson’s best result was his eighth-place finish on Sunday.
Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones were also eliminated from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs at the end of Sunday’s cutoff race.
The second round of the Cup Series playoffs kicks off on Oct. 7 at Dover Int’l Speedway.
Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Truex, Keselowski, Bowyer, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Blaney, Chase Elliott, Larson, Almirola and Bowman remain eligible for the series championship.
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