LONG POND, Pa. — Martin Truex, Jr. was back in championship form on Sunday afternoon at Pocono Raceway, as he held on to win his second race of the 2018 season.
The defending 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion was able to hold off the dominant cars of Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, as well as a late race charge from Kyle Larson, to claim the Pocono 400.
“It’s always fun to win,” Truex, Jr. said. “But especially when you beat the best guys out there. These two guys (Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick) were so fast today.”
Truex, Jr. led 31 laps and was the winner of Stage One. This victory marks his 17th career victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
“Honestly, we were all really equal,” Truex, Jr. said. “It was a matter of who could get out front. The 4 and I stayed on tires. We felt like in practice we were really fast on scuffs. Cole made a good call to stay out and once I got in clean air, this thing was a rocket ship.”
Larson utilized pit strategy and restarts to come home in second, while Kyle Busch fought back to finish in third after a late pit stop for tires. Harvick, who won Stage Two and led the most laps, fell back and finished fourth.
“We just lost our track position of being in the lead and lost control of the race,” Harvick said. “That is what did us in there. We restarted second and then third and lost a spot on each restart as you start on the inside.
“When you are racing the 18 and 78 you are splitting hairs and they were just better than us on pit road today.”
There were six cautions for 23 laps, 11 lead changes between seven drivers, and 27 drivers finished on the lead lap.
The first stage saw differing pit strategies, as some pitted as early as they could, while others waited until the last possible minute.
Ryan Blaney started on the pole and led the first 11 laps, but it didn’t take long for Harvick to take the point.
Harvick maintained the lead through the pit cycle, but with seven laps to go in the stage, he caught a lap car in a bad spot, allowing Truex, Jr. to get around the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Ford and claim the stage victory.
The stage went all 50 laps caution free. On the stage pit, Truex, Jr. fell back to 14th place after his tire carrier bumped into the jack, which cost the car to fall.
Brad Keselowski waited until late in the stage to pit, and that allowed him to only take two tires during the stage pit, giving the No. 2 Ford the lead at the start of the next stage.
Keselowski led the field to the green flag, but quickly relegated the lead back to Harvick.
After falling back to third, Keselowski decided to pit as soon as the window opened. Most of the field waited to cut the run in half.
Harvick resumed leading with 16 laps to go in the stage, and never looked back for the rest of the stage.
It was another caution free segment, with all cars still on track through 100 laps.
Kyle Busch finished second in the stage, Clint Bowyer was third, and Truex, Jr. fought back from his adversity to finish fourth.
Harvick won the battle off pit road, while Austin Dillon took two tires and restarted in second. It didn’t take long for Busch to get around Dillon, but Truex, Jr. was held up and lost a spot to Kyle Larson.
After a few laps, Truex, Jr. reclaimed the third position over Larson.
Meanwhile, Harvick pulled out to a comfortable advantage over Busch.
With 36 laps to go, Derrick Cope brought out the first yellow of the day that wasn’t a stage break. Larson closed in quickly, and gave the No. 99 StarCom Racing driver a tap to send him spinning.
On the ensuing round of pit stops, Busch was able to capitalize on Harvick being blocked in by Blaney and took the lead for the first time in the event.
On the restart at lap 130, Busch pulled ahead, bringing Truex, Jr. in tow to second place around Harvick.
The next caution flew for debris. Truex, Jr. and Harvick, along with a couple of other drivers stayed out, while Busch pitted. This would be key as they took the restart with 17 laps to go.
Shortly after the restart, the caution flew again, this time for Denny Hamlin getting loose under Alex Bowman, ending both of their chances.
With 10 laps to go, the caution came out almost immediately after the green flag flew, as Logano turned Erik Jones on the frontstretch.
On the final restart of the day, Truex, Jr. held off a late charge from Larson and new tires from Busch to claim the victory.
Busch was able to get back to restart in third, but once Truex, Jr. pulled away from the field, it was just a matter of ticking off the laps.
PHOTO GALLERY | 2018 Pocono 400
Next week, the series heads to Michigan Int’l Speedway for the FireKeepers Casino 400.
Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com