Martin Truex Jr. is officially the favorite in the 2016 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup. Truex staged another dominating performance Sunday leaving only six cars on the lead lap and winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover International Speedway.
Truex led a race high 187 of the 400 laps in a race that saw only 4 caution flags, none in the second half of the event. It was his career high fourth win of the season and his second in the first round of the Chase after Chicago two races prior.
“What else can you say?” Truex said. “We are here to get it done and golly I’m telling you just the best bunch of guys you could ever ask for. It’s just amazing to drive their race cars and do what we were able to do. I’m just ecstatic.”
Kyle Busch led 102 laps but secured second just over seven seconds behind. Chase Elliott scored another impressive run coming home third. Brad Keselowski was fourth and Matt Kenseth fifth.
While Truex celebrate in victory lane, four drivers lamented the end of their hopes for a championship in 2016. Twelve drivers move on to the next round of the Chase, while four drivers were eliminated Sunday. Chief among them were the two drivers from the Chip Ganassi Racing team. For the first time the team had put its two drivers in the Chase; that ended Sunday. Kyle Larson started the day 12th but during the races first caution on lap 33, Larson’s Chevy lost power and he had to be pushed into the pits. NASCAR then penalized the team for having too many crewmembers over the wall. Larson soon found himself 39th, three laps down. He would later lose a tire and smack the wall, finishing the day 25th six laps down and out of the Chase.
“There wasn’t much we could do,” Larson said. “I cut the right front tire down and got in the wall and still had good speed in the race car after that but it just didn’t work out. Our team has come a long way this season from where we started the year. We were pretty awful at the start of the season but then got a win at Michigan to lock ourselves in the Chase. That was good. I know we have the speed to have made it past a couple of rounds but it’s my typical luck I guess, where it just doesn’t work out.”
His teammate Jamie McMurray then carried the flag for the team but began to lose power and slowed on lap 170. He would lose his engine on lap 193 and was done for the day. McMurray finished 40th and he too was eliminated.
“It’s really hard when you run bad,” McMurray said. “But the fact that we have run so well the last two months and have been very consistent, both cars. You will have things like this happen. It’s frustrating that it happens at this point when you can’t really afford to have anything bad go wrong.”
Tony Stewart ran well, but not as well as Austin Dillon. Stewart finished 13th, Dillon 8th good enough to take the final Chase spot.
“I’m pretty excited about our day,” Stewart said. “We were much better than we were yesterday. Really proud of our team. We kept making it better all day. That is good as we had.”
Chris Buescher racing for an underfunded team was a longshot coming into the Chase. He finished 23rd Sunday and was the fourth driver to be eliminated from the Chase.
“It was great to be in the Chase,” Buescher said. “To even be in the running and be participating in it was a really special deal, especially for our first season, so that’s pretty awesome. These three races never really rolled our way. We had long green-flag runs in all three of them and we just haven’t had a chance to really dial it in. This weekend was especially tough without getting hardly any practice. We never made a long run, so we didn’t really know exactly where we were gonna be. It wasn’t bad. The car drove pretty decent, but those leaders set a blistering pace.”
Other Chase drivers had issues, but were secure enough to move on. Kevin Harvick, who won last week at New Hampshire, had an issue with a broken track bar mount early in the race. He was forced to the garage for repairs but with a win in the first round he was already guaranteed to move to the next round. Harvick finished the day 37th, 46 laps down.
Jimmie Johnson led 90 laps on the day. The 10-time Dover winner however had another pit road issue that derailed his chance for a win. On lap 276 during a round of green flag stops, Johnson pitted from the lead. NASCAR ruled that Johnson’s crew had gone over the wall too early and penalized him with a pass through penalty. He rejoined the field a lap down in 16th. Johnson rallied back to finish seventh one lap down and with enough points, will be in the next round of the Chase.
“I think today was a different set of circumstances on pit road,” Johnson said. “It was certainly, I think Chad (Knaus) still questions exactly what happened, but when I was coming into my pit box the No. 18 and the No. 43 were just leaving theirs and they were directly behind my box. I had to slam on the brakes and get turned and get underneath those guys to come in and I was pretty close to my box so I assume that just threw the rhythm off the pit stop and somebody came off the wall early. “
“I’m happy to be advancing we are certainly thrilled about that,” he added. “But feel like one got away today.”
Nine of the top ten finishers were in the Chase and will move on.
Joey Logano finished sixth, the last car on the lead lap. Behind seventh place Johnson, Dillon was eighth, Denny Hamlin ninth and Jeff Gordon subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr., 10th. The full results can be found here.
For Truex, a New Jersey native, the win comes at the place he considers his home track, and the site of his first career Cup win in 2007. Since that win he endured a lot of disappointment, including moving teams, and losing races. Sunday however marked the third time in the last four races that Truex has lead more than one hundred laps, and his laps led in the last six races are more than he has led in his entire career.
“I can remember going home on days really frustrated,” Truex said Sunday. “Here for example. Running upfront to have something happen and watch Jimmie (Johnson) win 10 of them and it’s like, man, that’s got to be unbelievable winning that many races in a year or that many races period. And, I mean that last month, month and a half has been ridiculous. It’s been a fairytale dream.”
The first race in the Round of 12 will take place at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Bank of America 500 will be run this coming Saturday night October 8, with the green flag coming just after 7:00 p.m. and live coverage on NBC.
Victory lane selfie!! ❤️🙌👍 pic.twitter.com/RTjXA23YCQ
— Sherry Pollex (@SherryPollex) October 2, 2016