For much of Saturday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway Martin Truex Jr. was in his own zip code. Truex enjoyed a lead that hovered between 10-15 seconds. With five laps to go there were only eight cars on the lead lap and Truex was checking out.
Then with two laps to go, Kurt Busch spoiled the party. Busch’s Stewart-Haas Racing Ford lost an engine, spewing fluid on the track and setting up the first overtime finish in Kentucky Speedway history.
As those behind him pitted for fresh tires, Truex was ordered to stay out.
“I thought we were done,” Truex said. “Honestly, we had such a – just such a good race car I think my main concern was just trying to get out front. If I could get to the lead I thought I’d be okay.”
He was able to get out front, and on the restart Truex, on old tires, pulled off the perfect launch. He shot to the lead and by the exit of turn two he was pulling away. Coming to the white, a three-car accident broke out behind him and the race ended under the caution. It was the 10th career win for Truex, his first at Kentucky and his third of the season. It came after he won both stages of the race leading up to the victory.
“Got to thank (Kyle) Larson,” Truex said. “He gave me a heck of a shove. I kind of waited until late in the restart zone just hoping I’d get a push cause I knew I was going to be struggling and then there was a lot of speed driving down on that bottom groove. I thought that might play into it and I think that helped us a little bit. I was able to clear Kyle (Busch) into one and then the rest was history.”
Truex took the lead from polesitter Kyle Busch on lap 68 just before the end of the first stage. Truex won that stage along with stage 2 to score his 12th and 13th stage wins of the season, far ahead of anyone else in the series.
Up until lap 68, polesitter Kyle Busch, who only hours before won the Xfinity series race, was the car to beat. Once Truex took control however, it was clear it would be his night.
Several favorites saw their nights end early, and badly. On lap 91, Brad Keselowski running in the top 10 at the time spun in turn 3; he came from the bottom of the track and swept up Jimmie Johnson. Both sustained heavy damage and were done. Clint Bowyer also received some slight damage but was able to continue.
“I just wrecked it. It stinks,” Keselowski said. “I got loose into three. I was underneath the 14. I was trying to lay up and give room but just spun out as soon as I got anywhere near the corner. I wrecked myself and a bunch of other guys. It is part of it I guess, but not a part that you have to like. It is part of the deal when you race at these types of tracks where it is one groove with this car and the way it is designed. You have to find a way around it and I didn’t find a way around it.”
On the restart from that crash, in nearly the same spot, Trevor Bayne spun taking out Kasey Kahne. Kahne was done, but Bayne tried to continue only to spin later and limp to the garage.
As dominate as Truex was the most resilient driver was Kyle Larson. The series points leader was forced to start in the back of the field after numerous inspection failures caused him to miss Friday’s qualifying session.
Larson was up to seventh by lap 58, fifth by lap 63, and third by lap 77. It was all for naught however as during pit stops at the end of the stage, Larson was penalized for speeding on pit road and send back to the rear of the field. He would spend the rest of the 267 laps fighting his way back and came home second.
“I don’t know what we could have done to beat him,” Larson said. “He was obviously pretty fast with the lead there. It would have been fun to get to race him because I felt like I had the second best car today; and it would have been interesting to get a restart with him earlier and get to hang with him that last run there. But, we brought the Target Chevy home second after not being able to qualify and having to start last in the race and then having my speeding penalty there. I’m mad at myself that I made that mistake. I don’t really know if it affected the outcome, but you never know.”
Chase Elliott was third, Denny Hamlin also overcame a speeding penalty and finished fourth, while polesitter Kyle Busch, who led 112 laps, finished fifth.
Erik Jones was sixth, Jamie McMurray seventh, Joey Logano used pit strategy to lead 7 laps and finished eighth. Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top 10.
For Truex and his Furniture Row Racing team the win was a dominating as the one they pulled off a Charlotte Motor Speedway last year, another 1.5-mile track making Saturday night’s race a statement win.
“I don’t know,” crew chief Cole Pearn said. “I mean I think it’ll be a statement if we go to win Loudon next week and shut ‘em up about the mile and a half thing. Hopefully we’re holding some lobster next week, but we’ll enjoy this one for sure.”
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series heads to Loudon New Hampshire for the Overton’s 301 next Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Live coverage will be on the NBC Sports Network at 3:00 p.m. ET.