Martin Truex Jr. battles back from early controversy to sweep season series at Kansas Speedway
By Justin Melillo
October 22, 2017
KANSAS CITY, Kan.—Martin Truex Jr. proclaimed on Sunday afternoon at Kansas Speedway that letting off the gas pedal is not an option, especially with the level of competition in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
With his seventh victory of 2017, Truex Jr. adds on to his season long dominance as he wins from the pole in the Hollywood Casino 400.
“Just can’t say enough about all these guys on this Furniture Row / Bass Pro Toyota,” Truex said. “Just really proud of them. Definitely racing with heavy hearts today with losing Jim (Watson) last night. Want to send our condolences to his family and all of his friends. He was a heck of a guy and a great worker and put a lot of speed in these Furniture Row Toyotas, so glad we could get him one here.
“Excited to get another one here at Kansas. This feels really awesome. It’s really Furniture Row’s home track. It just feels really good to finally get another one here. We got that one in the spring after so many heart breaks and then today it looked like it was going to happen and we just persevered.”
The No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota battled back from an early “restart violation” penalty and a loose wheel after that to capture the sweep at Kansas, as he also won earlier this year in May.
“Just couldn’t believe some of the things that were happening and thought there was no way that we were going to win that race at some point,” Truex said. “That first restart violation really caught me by surprise and that hurt, but that wasn’t the last blow we had to take.
“There was the loose wheel we had to pit for under green and getting a lap down and being able to stay out through that last stage and get that lap back was crucial, without that, we didn’t have a shot. Then we got back mid-pack and had a couple really good restarts to get some track position and then really fought the car through that part of the race and had to make some big adjustments and I felt like at the end we got dialed in pretty good. I’m pretty happy with that.”
Truex Jr. had already won at Charlotte two weeks ago to clinch his spot in the Round of 8, but as it has been evident all season long, he has no signs of stopping anytime soon.
Joining Truex Jr. in the Round of 8 will be Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Jimmie Johnson.
Truex Jr. earned the pole on Friday afternoon, which allowed him to lead the field to the green flag and take a commanding lead early. The first 30 laps of the day went by uneventfully, with the first caution of the day flying for the competition caution.
Controversy struck on the ensuing restart. NASCAR officials had given drivers and crew chiefs warning during the driver’s meeting that the front row starters on every restart must establish the restart line above the white line in the trioval before the Start/Finish line.
The message was lost on Truex Jr., as on lap 36, he pulled below the line, which resulted in a “restart violation”. That forced the early dominant car to pass through pit lane during green flag conditions.
Kyle Busch was the beneficiary of the Truex Jr. penalty, assuming the lead at lap 36. Busch led until the second caution of the day when Brett Moffitt put his No. 83 BK Racing Toyota into the wall. Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, and a few others stayed out on slightly used tires, but after only a couple of laps, Busch found his way back to the point.
Catastrophe struck Kyle Larson, as his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet started blowing up while running in the third position. Larson brought the car to pit road, losing a couple of laps to the lead, but unable to fully diagnose the issue.
The crew sent him back onto the track until it ultimately expired at lap 78, ending his playoff chances.
The stage ended under caution due to the fluid left on the track, giving the stage win to Kyle Busch.
Kyle Busch continued to lead at the restart, holding off Kevin Harvick on the restart and pulling out to a comfortable advantage.
After green flag stops, Harvick called up his crew to complain about a possible loose wheel. The No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford was able to hold on until the next stop.
The stage went green for the most part, until Brett Moffitt hit the wall for the second time at lap 157. This created a one lap shootout for the end of the stage, which forced teams to decide whether to pit or stay out.
Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. stayed out as the top four on the restart. Hamlin held off a hard charge from Harvick, on fresh tires, to win the stage.
Keselowski was able to hold on for third, while Johnson fell back to 10th, and Stenhouse Jr. fell outside the top 10 at the end of the stage. All four drivers that stayed out made their way to pit road during the stage break, a trade-off of going for stage points.
The final stage turned the intensity up to a whole other level, with adversity finding many of the playoff contenders still battling to make the Round of 8.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. found issues first, blowing a tire and smacking the wall to bring out the fifth caution of the day. The No. 17 Roush-Fenway Racing Ford was able to continue, but fell multiple laps down. Stenhouse Jr. wound up 29th, out of the race, and out of the next round of the playoffs.
Next was Jimmie Johnson on lap 187, as he spun off of Turn 4 into the trioval grass. The damage was severe enough to put him on the damage clock. Johnson then spun for a second time on the following restart, giving him more damage to the rear of his car.
The team on the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet never quit, as while they were still on the damage clock from the first spin, they fixed the damage from the second spin in time. Their poise and determination allowed them to advance with an 11th place finish.
“It’s just a roller-coaster ride you’re on,” Johnson said. “We’re just trying to keep the car on the track and keep it going. The No. 42 (Kyle Larson) had problems. That big crash on the back; you can just never give up in this sport.
“That’s one thing that this team has always prided themselves on and I’m very thankful for that.”
Calamity struck on lap 198, when on the following restart, Erik Jones over corrected his car off of Turn 2, collecting quite a number of cars, including a couple of playoff contenders.
Most notably involved was Matt Kenseth’s No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, who was parked by NASCAR for violating the damage clock policy.
Before the red flag flew for the wreck he was involved in, Kenseth brought the battered Camry down to the attention of his pit crew. The problem was, too many pit crew members went over the wall, and by rule, Kenseth was told he was done for the day, ultimately ending his championship hopes.
Jamie McMurray also was involved in the incident, and being that he basically needed to win to advance, his playoff run was also over. McMurray finished in 34th place.
As the race started to wind down to the end, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick both opted to short pit. Their strategy would end up costing them, as the ninth caution flew for A.J. Allmendinger spinning off of Turn 4 into the grass, and that trapped both playoff drivers off of the lead lap.
Both Harvick and Busch were able to take the wave around, but were at a disadvantage on the restart. Harvick ended up finishing eighth, while Busch took it home, finishing in 10th.
Truex Jr. took the final restart and never looked back, holding off Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney for his 14th career MENCS victory.
The Round of 8 begins at Martinsville Speedway on October 29th.
Dante Ricci/The Racing Experts