‘Wait a minute boys, I want to play too’. That’s the message Martin Truex Jr. sent Sunday as he beat arguably the two hottest drivers on the circuit right now in route to victory in the Monster Energy Cup Series Pocono 400.
With a roll of the dice, Truex stayed out while several of the leaders pitted with 20 laps to go during a caution for debris. Among those who stayed out with Truex was Kevin Harvick who has been the driver to beat and continued that story Sunday having led a race high 89 laps up to that point.
“There wasn’t a whole lot of conversation,” Truex said. “Cole said stay out and I stayed out. I put a lot of faith in him and making those pit calls. You know, 99 percent of the time, he is right. Honestly, we were really fast in practice. We weren’t quite as fast as some guys. On scuffs we were really fast. We got that clean air out front, we were able to check out.”
Among those who did stop was Kyle Busch who won at Pocono last July and was looking to repeat. Busch restarted eighth and was soon charging to the front on his fresher tires. Busch was up to fourth when Denny Hamlin crashed and set up a 10 lap shootout. The restart was aborted when Erik Jones crashed on the restart and the final restart came with 7 laps to go.
Kyle Larson took a shot for the lead entering turn 1 but Truex would have none of it and blocked him. Truex held the lead and in clean air began to stretch his lead out.
“I actually liked that the 78 tried to pull down and block me a little bit,” Larson said. “Because it messed his angle up to the corner. I knew he would have to slow down a little more on entry and I was hoping I could get close enough to him to get him loose. Which I did, but I also got kind of loose behind him. So I just had to tuck back in line on exit and then had to try and fight off the 18 and the 4 behind me.”
Kyle Busch shot past Harvick and dueled with Larson over the course of the final laps, but to no avail as Truex sailed to victory by 2.4 seconds.
“Just really a crazy situation there with how all that kind of transpired and went down,” Busch said. “But we fought hard for the finish and tried to get the most out of what we could there and just couldn’t pass.
With his 17th career win Truex becomes the third multiple race winner in 2018 having won the fifth race of the season at Auto Club Speedway.
“You’re always concerned on restarts at Pocono,” Truex said. “So much can happen on those. We were luckily able to get a good one. I just can’t say enough about everyone on this team. Cole (Pearn, crew chief) and all of the guys. We did a good job last night. It’s been a really good weekend overall. I feel like we’re getting back to where we were last year.”
Harvick, who has five wins this season, held on for fourth, Brad Keselowski was fifth.
“We had a good car all day, just came down to really losing control of the race on the last pit stop.,” Harvick said. “Really not pitting or pitting didn’t really seem to matter. We lost control to the 18 and wound up losing a couple more spots on the restart starting on the inside, and that was the end of the day. Car was fast and everybody did a great job, it just didn’t work out.”
For much of the 160 laps it was all Harvick. Only Truex who led 31 laps and won the first stage, and Busch who led 13 laps seemed to have anything for him.
The win for Truex did not come without adversity. During pit stops after stage 2, won by Harvick, the ire changer had trouble with the left rear tire and Truex came back out to restart 14th.
He went from 13th to 6th in the second stage, and in the end onto victory.
“Our car was great on the long-run,” Truex said. “There was a lot of cars on the short-run that were as good as we were. It’s so hard to pass here at Pocono. We had to pick them off one at a time and we stayed patient. I tried to save my tires a little bit and by the end of the run, we found ourselves fourth. It was a great comeback and just a strong race car.”
Polesitter and defending race winner Ryan Blaney came home sixth, Aric Almirola seventh, Jimmie Johnson who led his first laps of the year during green flag stops finished 8th with Joey Logano who made up a lap after a pit road speeding penalty finished ninth and Chase Elliott was 10th.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Michigan International Speedway for next Sunday’s Firekeepers 400. The green flag will come just after 2:00 p.m. with live coverage on Fox.