An incredible season for Martin Truex Jr. continued Sunday as the Furniture Row Racing had perfect restart on a green white checkered flag finish to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup series race at Chicagoland Speedway. The win is the first in the Chase for Truex, comes in his fourth career Chase and most importantly gives him a pass to the next round.
“Oh my goodness, I guess the racing gods don’t want us to lead too much,” Truex said. “What can I say about everyone at Furniture Row Racing, Toyota, TRD (Toyota Racing Development), Bass Pro Shops, Denver Mattresses – just everybody that makes this possible – Sprint, the fans have given us a ton of support, not only over the years but the last two has definitely helped us. This feels good.”
It was the sixth win of his career and a career best third win of the season for Truex. Truex overcame a flat right front tire that forced him to pit under green from second on lap 65. He had taken the lead on lap 22 and held it until the first caution on lap 48. He lost the lead during the cycle of stops but was second when he lost a lap due to his green flag stop.
Truex got the free pass during the second of the races four cautions on lap 119. From there he fought his way forward. The races final caution came out with 4 laps to go with Truex in second and rookie Chase Elliott leading. Elliott had control in the final laps but the caution, for Michael McDowell who lost a tire and left debris on the track, proved to be the race changer and sent the race to an overtime finish.
Truex and Elliott pitted. On the track, Ryan Blaney, Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards stayed out. Truex beat Elliott off pit road and lined up fourth in the preferred high line.
On the restart, Truex went to the outside and had the lead by turn 3. He held the lead through the white flag and went onto victory.
“On one hand the bad luck was going to bite us and on the other we had a lot of time to battle back,” Truex said. “We’re lucky it happened early and we were able to have an awesome race car all day. We’ll just keep working on it. We knew we weren’t that good early in the race and we struggled in traffic a bit. (Kevin) Harvick ran into us and bent our fender, I think on purpose and we had to come back from that. All in all, just an unbelievable day – it was a total team effort, that’s what it’s going to take to win the championship.”
Joey Logano was second, Elliott third with Blaney and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top five.
“Nothing is yours until it’s over,” Elliott said. “I mean that is part of life man. You are not dumb, we have all watched this stuff long enough we know these races don’t go green that long. We see more cautions come out at the end of these races than we do not. That is just part of it, you’ve got to expect it and be able to embrace it and move forward. I feel like we did a good job controlling the things that we could control today.”
While Elliott was disappointed, the news for him and the other Hendrick Motorsports driver in the Chase wasn’t all bad. Elliott led the second most laps on the day, 75, while his teammate Jimmie Johnson led a race high 118. For Johnson it was only the second time in the last 18 races that he has led double-digit laps.
Johnson’s undoing however was a late race speeding road penalty. The penalty came during a round of green flag stops and put Johnson down a lap. He made the lap up but could only rally back for a 12th place finish.
“I was dumbfounded that happened,” Johnson said. “You can’t argue it. Maybe a mistake on our part somewhere, definitely a mistake on my side, but I by no way shape or form thought that I was speeding. I was probably the slowest down pit road all day just to try to avoid it and got nailed. I will soak on it tonight and come back next week and be at 100 percent again and get ready to take this Lowe’s car to Victory Lane.”
While Johnson settled for a decent run and finish, for Kevin Harvick the day was nothing but bitter disappointment. It started pre-race when NASCAR sent the no. 4 to the rear of the field for unapproved body adjustments. However, Harvick made a furious charge through the field and was inside the top 10 by lap 28. An untimely caution proved to be lucky for Johnson, but unlucky for Harvick.
During the first round of green flag pit stops, Johnson and Harvick were the first among the top 10 to pit. A loose tire during their stops however brought out the race’s first caution. Truex had yet to pit at the time of the caution. Johnson was able to pass the start finish line prior to Truex meaning he stayed on the lead lap. Only seconds behind, Harvick did not and lost a lap. Harvick would take a free pass later in the going and was running eighth but was forced to pit for fuel with less than ten laps to go and finished 20th, one lap down.
Harvick wasn’t the only Chase contender to have issues Sunday.
Kyle Larson also started the day from the rear of the field. He made an equally impressive run through the field from the back. He ran as high as fifth at one point and was inside the top 10 in the final laps, but with 7 to go, a flat tire sent him to the pits under green and left him with an 18th place finish.
Chase driver Denny Hamlin was sixth in front of Kahne in seventh. Chase contender Kyle Busch led 21 laps but faded in the end and settled for eighth as his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and Chase contender Matt Kenseth finished 9th. Alex Bowman wheeled the No. 88 Hendrick car to a tenth place run after leading 6 laps late in the race.
Other Chase contenders: Jamie McMurray was 11th, Kurt Busch 13th behind Johnson, Austin Dillon 14th, with Carl Edwards 15th and Tony Stewart 16th. Chris Buescher was the lowest finishing Chase driver coming home 28th two laps down. The full race results can be found here.
Truex takes over the points lead followed by Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Logano in the top five. The full updated Chase points can be found here.
“We have more races to win – the more we can win the better,” Truex said. “What can I say? There are so many people who are responsible for this and I’m glad I get to drive this 78 with Cole Pearn (crew chief) and everybody on this team. Barney (Visser, owner) gives us everything we need… What can I say – this is how we want to start off. This feels awesome.”
The second race of the 10 race Chase comes at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The New England 300 will get the green flag just after 2:00 p.m. ET next Sunday with love coverage on the NBC Sports Network starting at 1:30 p.m. ET.
Note: Both Truex’s winning car and Johnson’s 12th-place car failed the laser inspection station post-race. Since both failed by a slight margin, NASCAR officials said the infraction to the No. 78 Camry didn’t rise to the level of an “encumbered” victory.