Whoever said a fuel mileage race in NASCAR was boring must have missed the race Sunday. Martin Truex Jr. saved enough fuel after giving up spots late in the going to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series I love New York 355 at Watkins Glen International Sunday.
The leaders, all on slightly differing fuel strategy, last pitted with over 40 laps to go, well outside the normal fuel window of 33 laps. In the final laps it all came down to who could save enough fuel to make it to lap 90.
Truex trusted his crew chief Cole Pearn, letting cars pass him late after being told to save fuel.
“He said, ‘We need to slow down more. We need to slow down more.’” Truex said. “It’s the hardest thing in the world to do to slow down and let those guys pass you for the lead thinking that when you figure out that you have enough fuel to make it you can try to step up your pace again and they’re just going to do the same.
“But, just Cole Pearn man, that’s his job and I trust him and everything he says. Man, he tells me to do stuff and I just do it and I don’t ask questions and here we are.”
Those two, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney, fell short; Keselowski pitted with five laps to go, Blaney ran out of fuel with two laps to go, giving Truex the lead for the final time. After slowing and saving fuel, Truex saved enough to hold off Matt Kenseth for his fourth win of the season, his first at the Glen and the 11th of his career.
“I just went as fast as I had to keep him (Matt Kenseth) behind me,” Truex said. “Fortunately we were able to keep that gap and never ran out of gas. I wish I’d have went a little harder on that last lap so it wasn’t quite so close because I got pretty nervous those last two corners, but it worked out perfect. What can I say? This is definitely an awesome day.”
Truex led a race high 24 laps overall but it was again Kyle Busch who was his closest foe early on.
Busch won the pole hours prior to the start of the race and led from the start winning the first stage. But during the caution after pit stops, he reported a loose wheel and was forced back in. Then just after Stage 2, where he finished ninth, he made contact with Keselowski entering the inner loop; both spun but were able to continue. Busch never recovered and had to pit just after taking fourth six laps from the end.
Kenseth was second followed by Daniel Suarez with a career high third, Denny Hamlin who started in the rear of the field after brake issues in qualifying finished fourth, Clint Bowyer finished fifth.
“I’m second happiest,” Kenseth said. “Martin is the happiest.”
“I felt like we had a top 5 car,” he added. “Obviously we had good fortune there at the end with our track position and our fuel mileage and all that to stay in it and have a shot at it, but man, when it’s that close and you see him saving and you’re saving and then you go after him there on that last lap, it’s disappointing not to get it. Especially when I saw him miss Turn 6 I was like, man, I’m going to have a shot, and he was so fast I still couldn’t get to him getting into 7. “
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished his final race at Watkins Glen in last place after being sidelined with engine issues on lap 22.
Kurt Busch was sixth, Kyle Busch seventh, followed by Ryan Blaney, AJ Allmendinger and Erik Jones.
The race had just three caution flags, two for the end of stages and one when Landon Cassill lost a tire on lap 51 leaving debris on the track.
Truex leaves Watkins Glen with a 116-point lead in the championship standings over Kyle Busch.
For crew chief Cole Pearn, the win was bittersweet and ended a rough few days for the Canadian.
“It’s been probably the hardest week of my life,” Pearn said. “But I don’t know, it’s still ‑‑ it’s not over yet. I lost my best friend growing up this week. He caught a random bacterial infection from a cut and basically died in a day. It’s not like he was sick. I talked to him the day before. They were coming to Michigan next weekend. So just doesn’t seem real still. He’s got two little boys that are not going to know their dad pretty much. I don’t know, we’ll get through it as a group. We were lucky to have an unbelievable friend support and family around that will make sure everybody is all right.
“But he was a heart‑of‑gold guy that ‑‑ I don’t know, I still haven’t come to terms with it, to be honest.”
The Monster Energy Cup Series heads back to Michigan for the Pure Michigan 400 next Sunday with live coverage on the NBC Sports Network at 3:00 p.m. ET.