Martin Truex Jr. Prevails in Overtime Sprint to Win Chase Openerby Kyle Pokrefky September 18, 2016 0 comments
JOLIET, Ill. — Martin Truex Jr’s quest for his first-ever Sprint Cup championship became a bit easier on Sunday as the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Toyota came home as the winner of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Starting fourth on a restart in NASCAR overtime behind cars on old tires, Truex Jr. swung his No. 78 machine out wide entering Turn 3 with two to go to clear Ryan Blaney for the race lead.
From there, it was smooth sailing for this year’s now three-time race winner as he sailed away to the victory over Joey Logano by 0.776 seconds.
With his win, Truex Jr. automatically clinched a berth into the next round of the Sprint Cup Chase – the Round of 12.
“We did what we came here to do, that always feels good when you get to accomplish your goals,” Truex Jr. said. “We had a good weekend here with our Furniture Row Toyota. We worked really hard on our car through practice on race runs and we tried some new stuff this weekend and we really felt through the weekend that we were getting the car feeling good for race trim.
“It was a good weekend for us. Today was a great day for us on the race track, we had to overcome some adversity and that was tough, but I’m really proud of my team for everybody sticking together.”
Behind the top-two finishers, Chase Elliott, Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Alex Bowman completed the top-10 of the finishing order.
Elliott put together the dominant drive of the end stages of the race and appeared to be on the way to his first career victory until the late caution flew.
Under yellow, most of the lead-lap cars – including Elliott and Truex Jr. – decided to bring their cars down pit road for service; however, as Elliott entered the pit lane P1 and Truex Jr. P2, the order between the two switched upon pit exit.
Speaking during a post-race press conference, Elliott said that he fully expected the late yellow to fly.
“I expected it,” Elliott said. “We’ve all watched this stuff long enough to know these races don’t go green that long typically. We know we see late-race cautions way more often than not – that’s a part of racing from short track racing all the way up to this stuff, I’ve learned over the years.
“You’ve just got to expect it from my seat, the crew chief’s seat and the pit crew’s perspective – you’ve just got to be ready to embrace it when it happens and suck it up and try to figure out how to make it happen after it does.”
Beyond the top-10, other Chase drivers’ respective finishes of the 270-lap race were Jamie McMurray in 11th, Jimmie Johnson in 12th, Kurt Busch in 13th, Austin Dillon in 14th, Carl Edwards in 15th, Tony Stewart in 16th, Kyle Larson in 18th, Kevin Harvick in 20th and Chris Buescher in 28th.
Harvick and Johnson ran into their own respective issues throughout the race that ultimately hampered their finishing positions.
Harvick’s misfortunes occurred on the first caution of the day when he was caught a lap down on the racing surface and had to fight throughout the remainder of the day to earn his lap back.
His efforts, valiant as they were, proved to be short-lived as the driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet managed to claim his lap back for a few laps before winding back down one lap.
Johnson, the dominant driver of the race with 118 laps led, was caught speeding on pit road with less than 50 laps to go and had to claw his way to the front from the end of the lead lap cars.
Four cautions slowed the 2 hour, 47 minute race for a total of 22 laps.
The first caution of the day was for a tire stuck in the infield grass on Lap 50 while a solo spin by Brian Scott was the cause for the second caution on Lap 121. The third caution flag of the race flew on Lap 192 for debris on the backstretch.
The fourth and final caution of the day flew with five laps to go for a blown right front tire on the No. 95 Chevrolet of Michael McDowell.
The Chase roars into New Hampshire Motor Speedway next Sunday for the New England 300.
Stewart currently holds the final transfer spot into the Contender Round with Dillon, Larson, Harvick and Buescher currently on the outside looking in with two races left in the round.
NOTE: Following post-race inspection for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it was revealed that Truex Jr’s No. 78 Furniture Row Toyota failed post-race laser inspection twice. The Chase berth bonus of Truex’s win will not be taken away as the infractions were deemed to be of ‘the lowest level’ and not large enough to trigger a revocation.
Photo Credit: Kena Krutsinger/NASCAR via Getty Images