Martin Truex Jr. Continues NASCAR Playoff Dominance With Kansas Winby Hunter Thomas October 22, 2017
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – While racing with heavy hearts for the passing of Furniture Row Racing road-crew fabricator Jim Watson, Martin Truex Jr. piloted the No. 78 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Toyota to victory on Sunday in the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
Throughout the afternoon, Truex Jr. overcame a restart penalty that was assessed on lap 38 and an unscheduled green flag pit stop for a vibration to capture his seventh Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of 2017. With the win, he becomes the first driver in series history to ever win both Kansas races in a season. He led 91 laps during the 267-lap NASCAR Playoff race.
“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 Jr. 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.”
Kurt Busch finished second on Sunday after starting 15th in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Haas Automation/Monster Energy Ford. The runner-up finish comes as a sigh of relief for Busch. He hasn’t earned a top-five finish since Richmond in early September.
“For us, we had a real adventurous day,” Busch said. “Actually, I brushed the wall early on, got a lap down, had to dig out of that hole all day.
“For the call early to stay out and then to put on scuff tires to limp it home through one of the stages, that was a gutsy call by Tony Gibson. I have to say hats off to Gibson for that because that put us back on the same sequence with the leaders and the tires. That gave us the same amount of sets of stickers that we could use towards the end of the race.”
Ryan Blaney who started 40th on Sunday battled through the field and captured a solid third-place finish. The incredible performance also earned the Wood Brothers Racing driver a spot in the NASCAR Playoffs’ Round of 8. Blaney is now seeded seventh in the championship standings.
“Yeah, it was a long day for sure, especially coming from the back,” Blaney said. “We made decent ground before the competition caution.
“The deal that happened Friday, having to start in the back, coming back, having a pretty fast car there at the end really all race shows some pretty great resilience from the Wood Brothers team, and it definitely feels good to be moving on, for sure.”
NASCAR Playoff contenders Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin completed the top-five.
Rounding out the top-10 was Chris Buescher, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola and Kyle Busch.
The Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on Sunday was a cutoff race to advance to the Round of 8. The four drivers who were eliminated from the Playoffs included Kyle Larson, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
On lap 78, the caution came out for Kyle Larson who was trailing smoke and fluid. The mechanical issue forced Larson to finish 39th, ending his championship hopes. The inopportune mechanical failure was a disappointment for the team considering that Larson won a career-high of four races during the regular season.
“I felt it drop a cylinder or something,” Larson said. “So, it’s disappointing way to finish our race and probably our season, but we’ll be all right.”
A 14-car crash along the backstretch on lap 199 took Jamie McMurray and Matt Kenseth out of Playoff contention. Erik Jones got loose exiting Turn 2 and spun back up the track and into traffic. Jones nearly flipped over after contact with McMurray and Daniel Suarez. McMurray’s car was too damaged to continue.
“It just looked like the No. 77 (Erik Jones) got loose,” McMurray said. “I saw him and it looked like he over-corrected. And then actually, I didn’t think I was going to hit him and I didn’t have that much contact with him, but someone came through later on and got into me a little bit harder. I had a really fast car. I thought we had one of the best cars, and I felt like if we could have gotten to the lead, I could have led the race for a while. It was a good Cessna Chevy. But we’ve had two bad races in a row and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
In a strange set of circumstances, Kenseth who was involved in the multicar crash was taken out of the race due to a mishap on pit road. Kenseth’s car wasn’t that incredibly damaged, but while he was on the five-minute clock for repairs, seven crew members serviced the car instead of the allowed six. In the NASCAR Rulebook, that results in an instant disqualification. The only time a seventh crew member can be sent over the wall is to service the driver and not the race car. As a result, Kenseth finished 37th.
“I don’t know what any of the rules are,” Kenseth said. “Seems like we got a lot of stuff that kind of gets, you know, changed so often I honestly can’t keep up with it. My head kind of spins from putting lugnuts out of pit boxes to one to many guys over the wall, you’re not allowed to race anymore. I just don’t get it to be honest with you. I really don’t have a lot good to say right now. I’m more than disappointed.”
The drivers who will compete in the Round of 8 include Martin Truex Jr. (+27), Kyle Busch (-27), Brad Keselowski (-43), Kevin Harvick (-52), Jimmie Johnson (-52), Denny Hamlin (-55), Ryan Blaney (-60) and Chase Elliott (-63).
On Sunday, October 29, the Round of 8 will get underway at Martinsville Speedway. The drivers of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will compete in the First Data 500 that will broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) and the Motor Racing Network (MRN) at 3 p.m. ET.
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