Truex remains disciplined as others falter, earns fourth win of 2017
By Tyler Head
August 7, 2017
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Martin Truex Jr. has been racing at the top level of NASCAR for more than a decade, but what he needed to do at Watkins Glen was harder than anything he’s ever done while driving in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
He had to let people pass him.
“It’s so hard there to let guys pass you for the lead,” Truex said. “You’ve just got to listen to your crew chief and luckily for me I’ve got the best one in the business.”
Truex surrendered the lead to Brad Keselowski with just 14 laps to go and then second to Ryan Blaney a few laps later. The No. 78 Furniture Row Toyota team had determined they needed to slow down–a lot–to be able to make it to the end on fuel.
The team was gambling that the drivers passing them hadn’t saved enough.
“It’s like, ‘Alright, if they don’t run out of gas we’re going to look really dumb,’” Truex said with a chuckle.
Fortunately for him, the strategy worked out exactly as his team planned. Keselowski gave up the lead with three laps to go to get fuel. Blaney followed suit one lap later.
Truex then fended off a hard charge from Matt Kenseth to secure his first win at the Finger Lakes road course.
“For him to be able to do that, stay disciplined, is a huge accomplishment for him,” crew chief Cole Pearn said.
“I think you look back at his career – how many races he’s lost on fuel mileage–to pull it together and get to victory lane was pretty awesome.”
“Just glad it worked out,” Truex said. “It’s 11 years I’ve never won a fuel mileage race. I’ve dominated a lot of races that were won on fuel mileage that wasn’t me, but to finally win one this way was pretty neat and definitely different.”
Kenseth finished second behind Truex, followed by rookie Daniel Suarez, Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer.
BUSCH’S BAD LUCK RETURNS
Kyle Busch said it felt good to get the monkey off his back with his win in Pocono, but it appeared the monkey came back for more just one week later.
Busch won the pole for the I Love NY 355 at The Glen with a blistering pace, besting his closest competitor by nearly four tenths of a second. The dominance carried over into the race’s first stage; Busch led all 20 laps en-route to the stage win.
Then the monkey came back.
A lug nut became lodged between a brake caliber and one of the tires on the No. 18 M&M’s Caramel Toyota during a pit stop in the race’s first stage break. The issue forced Busch to pit a second time, sending him to the rear of the field for the beginning of stage two.
Busch was able to work his way back to ninth by the end of the second stage, but found more trouble shortly after the final stage began. Busch and Keselowski made contact while racing into the “bus stop” on lap 47, sending both cars spinning into the runoff area of the track.
Busch was never able to climb back into contention for the win after that incident, but did rally to finish seventh.
DISAPPOINTMENT FOR DALE
What was likely Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final trip to Watkins Glen as a driver ended abruptly on lap 22 with a mechanical failure in the No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet.
“I don’t know. It’s been a little frustrating this weekend,” Earnhardt said in the garage.
“This doesn’t make it much better. But, I sure have enjoyed racing here and really appreciate the fans here; and the track and the staff. They’ve treated us so good every time we’ve been here, so it’s been a blessing.”
Earnhardt and company struggled to find speed all weekend long. The mechanical failure made a bad weekend worse, relegating Earnhardt to a 37th-place finish. It was his ninth finish of 30th or worse in 22 races in 2017.
“It has been a difficult year, but I’ve have more challenging times for sure,” Earnhardt said. “I still feel like we will have some things to be proud of before the end of the season.
“It is just not going to be this weekend.”
Earnhardt is 23rd in points, 258 points behind the last playoff spot.
With the victory, Martin Truex Jr. further padded his leads in the season standings and the running tally of playoff points.
Truex has more than double the number of playoff points any of his competitors have with 34. The next closest is Jimmie Johnson, who has 16.
Truex has a 116-point advantage over second-place Kyle Busch in the overall standings with four races remaining in the regular season.
Whichever driver earns the most points during the regular season earns an additional 15 playoff points to use during the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Kenseth remains on the bubble to make the playoffs, but increased his lead slightly over his closest challenger with his second-place finish.
Kenseth is now 28 points ahead of Bowyer, who is the first driver out.
Chase Elliott and Jamie McMurray, who are the other two drivers above the playoff cut line without wins, are 39 points and 34 points ahead of Bowyer, respectively.
Elliott finished 13th Sunday, followed by McMurray in 14th.
Tyler Head/The Racing Experts
Kyle Stephens/The Racing Experts