After two weeks of disappointment, and overcoming a great deal of adversity, Martin Truex Jr. was finally able to put it all together. Truex won the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Chicagoland Speedway Sunday, the first race in NASCAR’s playoffs, assuring himself a spot in the next round.
The win came after he was leading the races at Richmond and Darlington with five laps to go only to lose.
That didn’t happen Sunday.
Truex, the regular season champion, took the lead for the final time on lap 190 of 267 and cruised to victory by just over 7 seconds. It was his fifth win of 2017, and his second at Chicago, the previous coming last season in this race.
“I think last week was last week,” Truex said. “We got over it by Monday or Tuesday, focused on Chicago. Just trying to move forward and look forward each and every week and race one race at a time.
“We knew that this week was a big one. We wanted to come here and just run like we knew we could, not do anything out of the ordinary. Most importantly not let the pressure dictate how we raced or what we did. I think we did that.”
The adversity for Truex began before the race even began. His car failed pre-race inspection four times before being allowed to take the grid.
It didn’t stop there however.
Truex was penalized for speeding on lap 40. He fought back from 17th, but a wheel that had only three of five lugnuts forced him back in on lap 84. He restarted 13th, and fought his way back for the win.
“I was like, ‘Here we go’” Truex said. “It’s like last year all over again. Last year here we had the tire unravel and lost a lap. I thought to myself, At least this year we stayed in the lead lap with our troubles. We’d been in this position before.
“The good thing, if you’re going to have trouble, you want it to be at a place like Chicago, where the track is so wide, there’s so many options. I felt like I could run almost anywhere on the racetrack today and make almost identical lap time, which is definitely a unique thing for this day and age. Most of the racetracks we go to, typically you find one or two grooves that are best, better than anything else. Today I felt there were so many options. I could just go where the guys weren’t and get by them.”
While Truex was able to rally for the win, the news for Kyle Busch was not as good. Busch was fastest in practice, won the pole for the race, and led a race high 85 laps Sunday. But he pitted on lap 96 with a possible loose wheel. Then was penalized for a crew member going over the wall too soon. He had to do a pass through. He came in on lap 102 and rejoined the field 29th, two laps down.
Busch spent the entire race trying to fight his way back. He was able to get one lap back, but despite a furious battle to get the free pass, fell short and finished 15th, one lap down.
“It’s just disappointing that we had trouble on pit road like that,” Busch said. “We just never had the opportunity with how the cautions fell to get back on the lead lap. We’ll get back to the shop and talk about it, and really all we can do is move on and put it behind us.”
A total of 10 of NASCAR’s 16 playoff drivers finished in the top 11.
Chase Elliott made a strong statement; he led 42 laps and finished second, Kevin Harvick was third, Denny Hamlin fourth and Kyle Larson fifth.
“Just a much-improved day from where we’ve been, which is nice,” Elliott said. “Obviously would have been great to battle with Martin a little bit more. We didn’t have anything for him. From where we’ve been to where we ran today was a major, major step in the right direction, frankly where we need to be, where we deserve to be, to the potential we can run.”
Brad Keselowski was sixth followed by Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray rounding out the top 10. Playoff contender Ryan Blaney was 11th.
Behind Kyle Busch other playoff contenders who had forgettable finishes: Austin Dillon was 16th, Kurt Busch 19th, Kasey Kahne 21st, Ryan Newman 23rd and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 25th.
In his final race at Chicagoland, Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished a quiet 17th.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway next Sunday. The ISM Connect 300 will get the green flag just after 3:00 p.m. ET with live coverage on the NBC Sports Network.