Denny Hamlin claimed victory in one of NASCAR's crown-jewel races, winning the Southern 500 on Sunday.
Hamlin, who led 124 laps on the night, lost the lead with 54 remaining when he missed the entrance to pit road, costing him at least six seconds and what he thought to be the chance at his second Southern 500 win.
Instead, Hamlin, who has the best average finish and driver rating over the past 10 races at Darlington Raceway, cut a 20-second deficit after the pit stop into a lead when he passed Martin Truex Jr. with three laps to go.
Even though Truex finished eighth, he clinched the regular-season title, padding his already lengthy points lead entering the start of the postseason at Chicagoland Speedway on September 17.
Truex earned 15 additional playoff points with the title and two for a stage one and two victory, giving him 52 on the season, more than double that of second-placed driver Kyle Busch.
While driver's points totals will reset to 2,000 for the postseason, playoff points will roll over, essentially giving Truex a major head start to advance to the second round and beyond.
Thirteen drivers have won a race that counts toward playoff eligibility, leaving 12 fighting for the final three spots Saturday at Richmond.
Clint Bowyer finished last on Sunday after blowing an engine early in the race. He will have to win at Richmond on Saturday in the regular-season finale to clinch a spot in the playoffs.
Fan favourite Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished 22nd in the Southern 500, also needs a win at Richmond to make the playoffs.