CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was hardly NASCAR’s finest moment when an ambulance clogged the entrance to Richmond’s pit road in a freak incident that could have ruined the regular-season finale.

A caution in Saturday night’s race, which finalized the field for the playoffs, sent cars to pit road for a routine stop. But for reasons NASCAR does not yet know, an ambulance had parked itself along the route and immediately bottlenecked the traffic.

NASCAR got lucky that no one was injured as cars frantically darted around the ambulance. Some couldn’t slow in time and drivers began running into each other. Matt Kenseth got the worst of it – his hood was crumpled and his race was instantly over.

Had that incident cost Kenseth a spot in the playoffs, NASCAR would have had a huge mess to clean up before the playoffs begin this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. Kenseth was not locked into the 16-driver field, and a first-time winner on the season would have bumped him out of the playoffs.

Although Kenseth remained calm when his fate was taken out of his hands, regular-season champion Martin Truex Jr. was furious.

“Whoever hits the button to open pit road needs to pay attention to what’s going on on the racetrack,” Truex said. “Somebody obviously wasn’t paying attention or wasn’t doing their job probably, and in my opinion at this level, it’s inexcusable.”

It was a bad look for NASCAR in a very big race.

NASCAR senior vice president Scott Miller said the ambulance driver did not follow the directive to stop before pit road, while noting the screw-up is “not like this is a common occurrence for us. It was a very strange thing.”

Still, Miller agreed with Truex that pit road should have been closed the moment the ambulance was spotted.

“Those calls are very dynamic. They happen very, very quickly,” he said. “It’s the race director in charge of pit road open and closed. The track services and safety crew is in charge of the other. We didn’t sync up tonight. We will make sure we don’t let that happen again.”

Other things of note from the regular-season finale:

UNHAPPY TRUEX: Truex clinched the regular-season title a week earlier at Darlington, and his reward came with a trophy presentation to match the bonus points he takes into the playoffs. NASCAR decided to wait until Saturday night to give Truex and his team the trophy, and the timing was less than ideal.

For the second week in a row, a race Truex could have won ended in a crash. He was less than thrilled as he accepted his trophy.

Truex appeared to have the victory in hand until Derrike Cope, running many laps down, brought out a caution and sent the race to overtime. Truex was beaten off pit road by Kyle Larson, fell behind on the restart, then crashed while racing Denny Hamlin for position.

His ire was with Cope, saying a “caution for a guy that shouldn’t even be out there is kind of ridiculous.”

LOOK OUT FOR LARSON: There’s no doubt that the late caution helped Larson snatch the win away from Truex and tie him with four victories this season, most in the Cup Series.

But it’s important to note that Larson did it on a short track. His four previous victories, including one last year, all were on 2-mile tracks. Saturday night’s victory proved he’s probably Truex’s toughest challenger for the title.

“To get a win right before the playoffs start, I really hope it helps the momentum and the confidence,” Larson said.

END FOR EARNHARDT: Dale Earnhardt Jr. was a longshot to make the playoffs, so no one should have been surprised when he was eliminated. It means NASCAR’s most popular driver will end his career without a Cup title to his name.

“Apologize to our fans we’re even in this situation,” he said. “We believe in ourselves, and we should have been locked (into the playoffs) before we got here. But wasn’t a great season, performance-wise, but we got 10 to go. So we’ll see if we can get a few more good runs. Maybe a win, you never know.”