THREE THINGS WE LEARNED FROM RICHMOND

1. Junior apology

Dale Earnhardt Jr. apologized to his fans after failing to make the NASCAR playoffs. “We believe in ourselves and we should have been locked in before we got here, but it wasn’t a great season, performance-wise, but we’ve got 10 to go,” he said, later mentioning Talladega.

2. Champ clocked, crowned

Martin Truex Jr. was on his way to victory at Richmond until a caution, just laps from the finish, jumbled the field. Truex wound up crashing after the restart. Aftewards, he was handed the regular-season title trophy. “I wish we could have got the trophy last weekend,” he said.

3. ‘Encumbered’ stings

Joey Logano thought he made the playoffs on April 30 when he won at Richmond. His No. 22 Ford failed inspection and that victory was encumbered. He came up short at Richmond 2. “That’s the end of our championship run, but it’s not the end of our season,” he said.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

1. Breakthrough run

Kyle Larson not only scored his fourth victory of the 2017 season (fifth career), but it was his first at a track that’s not two miles long. His previous four wins were at Michigan and Las Vegas. “Just having a blast this season,” he said. “Hopefully we can go on into the playoffs and make it through some rounds and hopefully get to Homestead, if Irma doesn’t wash it away, and go for a championship.”

2. Playoff field

The playoff field was finalized at Richmond on Saturday night. A total of 16 drivers, including three who got in on points, will begin the championship battle at Chicagoland Speedway this week. Martin Truex Jr. starts the postseason with 53 playoff points, 20 more than second-place Larson. Truex will carry those 53 points through the first nine races of the 10-race playoff. Jamie McMurray is ranked 16th.

3. Kenseth’s last ride

NBC announcer Jeff Burton, who was a race driver before turning microphone jockey, waxed poetic about Matt Kenseth’s situation. “Remember he does not have a ride for next year,” Burton said. “Imagine you worked at your job for 45 years, and somebody walks up to you and says, ‘Hey, you don’t have a job next year.’ Imagine how that makes you feel. He wants to prove to the world and himself he can do it.”

SPEED FREAKS

A few questions we had to ask ourselves

On the cusp of playoffs, who’s your favorite?

GODSPEAK: For some reason, I like Kyle Larson’s chances. I don’t think Larson will overthink this.

KEN’S CALL: Martin Truex Jr. has been the man all year, but that means nothing now. Mr. Hunch likes Kyle Busch.

Who’ll be the first four eliminated?

GODSPEAK: Austin Dillon, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Blaney, Jamie McMurray

KEN’S CALL: Kasey Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon ... and Jimmie Johnson!

QUESTIONS & ATTITUDE

Compelling questions ... and maybe a few actual answers

What if tech inspectors determine the champ?

That has to be the worst-case scenario. And it’s a potential problem that will be extremely difficult to address, but addressed it must be. From the outside, it seems the answer is one of two extremes: Develop a system that takes away any mechanical leeway whatsoever, which would take away a key component of racing history; or write a few basic rules and safety mandates, then let the teams “do their thing.”

Which non-winner has a chance?

Regulars to this page know we have an occasional mean streak that makes us pull for a driver to win the championship without winning a race. Three chances this year, and of the three you gotta like Matt Kenseth. Mild Matt needs some love from the racing gods, and since his ’03 championship was a catalyst for the advent of playoffs, it would be a fun development.

FEUD OF THE WEEK

MARTIN TRUEX JR. VS. DERRIKE COPE:

Cope’s No. 15 Chevy tagged the wall, bringing out the final caution, which led to Truex losing the lead and crashing on the last lap.

GODWIN KELLY’S TAKE:

I’ll let Truex explain: “Caution for a guy that shouldn't even be out there is kind of ridiculous,” he said. “I don't really know what to say. It's unfortunate the way the race ended.”

CUP STANDINGS

1. Martin Truex Jr. 2053

2. Kyle Larson 2033

3. Kyle Busch 2029

4. Brad Keselowski 2019

5. Jimmie Johnson 2017

6. Kevin Harvick 2015

7. Denny Hamlin 2013

8. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 2010

9. Ryan Blaney 2008

10. Chase Elliott 2006

11. Ryan Newman 2005

12. Kurt Busch 2005

13. Kasey Kahne 2005

14. Austin Dillon 2005

15. Matt Kenseth 2005

16. Jamie McMurray 2003

WHAT'S ON TAP

CUP SERIES: Tales of the Turtles 400

SITE: Chicagoland Speedway (1.5-mile oval)

TV SCHEDULE: Friday, practice (NBC Sports Network, 12:30 p.m.), qualifying (NBCSN, 6:30 p.m.). Saturday, practice (CNBC, 11:30 a.m. and NBCSN, 2 p.m.). Sunday, race (NBCSN, race coverage begins at 2:30 p.m.; green flag, 3:15 p.m.)

XFINITY: Chicagoland 300

SITE: Chicagoland Speedway

TV SCHEDULE: Friday, practice (NBC Sports Network, 2 p.m.), qualifying (NBCSN, 12:30 p.m.). Saturday, race (NBCSN, 3:30 p.m.)

CAMPING WORLD TRUCKS: Chicago 225

SITE: Chicagoland Speedway

TV SCHEDULE: Friday, (Fox Sports 1, 8:30 p.m.)

GODWIN'S PICKS FOR CHICAGOLAND

WINNER: Martin Truex Jr.

REST OF TOP 5: Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch

FIRST ONE OUT: Aric Almirola

DARK HORSE: Daniel Suarez

DON’T BE SURPRISED IF: The regular-season champion continues his winning ways as the playoffs begin.