It is not very often when entering a scenario in racing where the favorite is positively crystal clear. With 10 races left to decide a champion, never has a favorite been so dominant, so driven, and so overwhelmingly chosen that the wonder is what could happen to prevent it from happening.
When the standings reset following Richmond, it was Martin Truex Jr. who clearly had the regular season of domination. Entering with nearly a full race allotment of points to play with thanks to his 53 playoff points, the focus was trying to get around the No. 78.
When Chicagoland Speedway came up, he knew what to do considering a season ago, he was the one who took the victory.
This year, in order to do so, he had to overcome mistakes and traffic to make it just to the lead.
Once he got there, nothing was keeping him from his quest. His car kept getting smaller out the windshield of the second-place team, to the point where his lead was over seven seconds. It may not have been a completely dominant performance, but it was dominant when it counted. Add yet another victory to the No. 78 tally, another five playoff points on the season, and this time it’s an easy pass into the second round of the title hunt.
It also means one participant has been given that same free pass into the second round. When this field gets reduced from 13 down to 10, there’s now just nine spots remaining. Here’s the playoff standings after the Tales of the Turtles 400:
Misan Akuya (2080) Kyle Larson finished 5th –  0 38
Ashley Hobbs (2077) Chase Elliott finished 2nd –  0 30
Ashley Hull (2067) Denny Hamlin finished 4th –  22
Billy Fellin (2064) Martin Truex Jr WON –  1 20*
Sal Sigala Jr. (2059) Jimmie Johnson finished 8th –  0 30
Patti Rodisch (2058) Kyle Larson finished 5th –  0 16
Penny Whitecotton (2058) Kevin Harvick finished 3rd –  0 6
Rob Blount (2054) Brad Keselowski finished 6th –  0 14
Klarissa Mitchell (2045) Denny Hamlin finished 4th –  0 0
Dustin Parks (2044) Matt Kenseth finished 9th –  0 10
Ashley McCubbin (2042) Kyle Busch finished 15th –  0 11
Rob Tiongson (2040) Ryan Blaney finished 11th –  0 14
Dalton Hastings (2034) Jimmie Johnson finished 8th –  0 5
Next Race: One participant is locked in, while the battle to make it into the next round is extremely close, both at the top and at the cut-off. The top-10 will make it into the next battle, which will mean someone may need to pull a few tricks and even a rabbit out of the hat to make it happen.
All that magic will need to happen at the “Magic Mile” come Sunday when the second race of the Playoffs hits the flat track of New Hampshire.
Participants, one is already locked in. Nine spots still remain. Have those picks, which must be different than the previous week, locked in by Thursday, September 21, at 10 p.m. ET for the ISM Connect 300.
Chase Elliott and team received an L1-penalty following his second-place finish on Sunday. The penalty was 15 driver and owner points, along with the loss of crew chief and car chief.
Because of the points penalty, the lone writer that chose him on Sunday will lose the same amount. No appeal from Hendric Motorsports will occur, so the standings have been updated to showcase as such.