Martin Truex Jr. almost saw a dominant run give way to a potentially devastating overtime upset, but he held off fresher tires behind him on the restart and won the Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday night.
“I thought we were dead! I thought we were done,” Truex said after his burnout at the flag stand. “This is completely unbelievable. I’m so excited to win here. I felt like we had a shot last year, and it got away from us on fuel mileage.”
Kurt Busch brought out the race’s eighth caution when his engine blew with two laps to go, bringing a substantial cheer from the crowd weary of Truex’s remarkable run. When the caution fell, Truex had led 147 laps, lapped all but the top eight cars and was more than 15 seconds ahead of second place Kyle Larson.
“I was worried every lap, waiting for caution, especially at the end. You’re counting down the last 30, the last 20, the last 10, and you get inside five and think ‘oh my God, there’s no way there’s not going to be a caution,’ and sure enough there was,” Truex said. “Fortunately, we were able to hold them off. This thing was so stout tonight.”
Truex opted to stay out as the rest of the lead lap cars came down pit road. Kyle Busch took two right sides to help put him second on the restart. Larson, the Monster Energy Cup Series points leader who passed more cars than anyone all day, took four tires and restarted fourth.
Truex, who opted to take the outside lane whenever he had the lead, got a great jump on the restart and pulled away down the backstretch. As he crossed the start/finish line for the white flag, part of the field wrecked behind him bringing out a ninth caution and securing the 10th Cup victory of Truex’s career.
The win also marked Truex’s third victory of the season, all at 1.5 mile tracks (Las Vegas, Kansas and Kentucky), and pulled him within one point of Larson’s 710 series points. The win gives Truex a big advantage in playoff points with 28 to Larson’s 13, which will give the No. 78 an edge when the “postseason” begins in September.
Kyle Busch dominated the race early, leading 112 laps, but couldn’t hold off Truex for the two early stage wins and couldn’t get his car right enough to catch the No. 78 at the end, fading to fifth. Chase Elliot finished third with Denny Hamlin taking fourth.
“It was a solid night,” said Elliot, who moved up to fifth in the points standings. “It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t phenomenal, but it was a well executed night on pit road and on that last restart.”
Truex’s dominance became clear as green flag pit stops cycled around with about 36 laps to go. He held a more than 11 second lead over Kyle Busch at that point and had lapped all but the top 13 cars. Only nine cars were on the lead lap at the end of the race.
For critics complaining about the narrow racing groove and difficult passing at Kentucky, Larson held the counterpoint, pushing through the field from the back of the pack to the top 10 twice. Larson started 40th because his car failed to get through inspection on time before qualifying. He steamrolled to fourth after Stage 1 only to be sent to the back of the field again for a speeding penalty on pit road before Stage 2.
“I wish I would have not fallen back on that restart before the end of the second stage …,” Larson said. “If I could’ve restarted a row or two behind (Truex), maybe I could have been aggressive on the restart and made some things happen to get in front of him and try to set the pace. But just judging off of lap times and stuff, I don’t think it would have been easy to hold him off. Martin was super fast … . He’s in a whole other league, right now.”
Truex, the undisputed king of stages, picked off Kyle Busch on the long run between breaks, driving by the No. 18 on lap 133.
Truex, who has led more than 1,000 laps this season, had followed Kyle Busch for all of the race’s 162 laps at the Stage 2 caution, but he led the most consequential laps and earned a playoff point for each stage Saturday, giving him 13 stage wins, far more than any other driver.
The stage was marred by a caution at the restart, as a bunched field came around after the green flag.
Brad Keselowski, the three-time winner of the Quaker State 400, spun as he entered Turn 3 and collected Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer.
Johnson said he saw Keselowski losing it in the corner pretty early and thought he would avoid contact, but his right front caught the No. 2 as it went around. The impact broke part of Johnson’s suspension, sending him into the fence and ending his day.
“It’s just dicey on the restarts,” said the seven-time champion, who got his first career start at Kentucky, but has yet to win in Sparta.
Keselowski said it was hard to hold his line in the still narrow race grooves at Kentucky, and he was faced with backing off and losing a lot of positions or trying to hang in.
“I just got in the aero wake and it pulled me around,” he said.
Bowyer was able to avoid major damage and stay on the lead lap.
A lap after the next restart, Kasey Kahne tried to go into Turn 1 under Trevor Bayne, but clipped him and took them both around for the race’s fourth caution. Kahne’s car was damaged too badly to continue. Bayne tried to continue, but spun on Lap 112 to bring out another caution and took it back to the garage.
Truex took the lead on lap 66 and held on through lap 80 for his 12th stage win.
As he was interviewed by television and radio broadcasters during the stage break, Truex said the track was getting trickier in both corners with some slick spots developing as the rubber built up.
“Well it ain’t got any easier, I can tell you that,” Truex told PRN Radio.
The field largely settled into a single file at the drop of the green flag with pole sitter Kyle Busch jumping out to about a second lead 10 laps in and holding onto the point for 66 laps.
But as NASCAR’s Lap 30 competition caution approached, Truex began showing he could reel Busch in, pulling alongside in Turns 1 and 2 on lap 28, but unable to pull off the pass as the No. 18 held on going through what has been a treacherous Turn 3 this week.
Larson charged through the field going from dead-last 40th to fourth only to get caught speeding as he exited pit road. That put him all the way to the back of the field again after the penalty.
Bevin flies in
Gov. Matt Bevin delivered the green flag in perhaps the most spectacular way any government official ever has, dangling from a Black Hawk helicopter flying high over Kentucky Speedway.
The governor, who served in the Army from 1989 to 1993, strapped in atop a formation of three members of the Special Tactics Squadron of the 123rd Airlift Wing of the Kentucky Air National Guard out of Louisville. They hung on a line from a helicopter provided by the 63rd Theater Aviation Brigade of the Kentucky Army National Guard in Frankfort.
Quaker State 400 Presented by Advance Auto Parts Results
Saturday at Kentucky Speedway, Sparta
Lap length: 1.50 miles
(Start position in parentheses)
1. (2) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 274 laps, 149.0 rating, 60 points.
2. (40) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 274, 107.6, 43.
3. (12) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 274, 104.4, 36.
4. (5) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 274, 98.2, 40.
5. (1) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 274, 127.9, 50.
6. (14) Erik Jones, Toyota, 274, 102.7, 40.
7. (4) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 274, 103.8, 41.
8. (11) Joey Logano, Ford, 274, 87.8, 29.
9. (7) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 274, 112.0, 42.
10. (6) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 273, 88.0, 27.
11. (17) Darrell Wallace Jr, Ford, 273, 75.2, 0.
12. (13) Dale Earnhardt Jr, Chevrolet, 273, 82.1, 25.
13. (16) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 273, 84.7, 26.
14. (18) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 273, 74.5, 23.
15. (20) Danica Patrick, Ford, 273, 69.9, 22.
16. (22) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 273, 62.9, 21.
17. (3) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 273, 97.3, 33.
18. (9) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 273, 76.7, 19.
19. (25) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 273, 59.2, 18.
20. (28) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 272, 62.9, 17.
21. (24) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 272, 59.3, 16.
22. (29) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 272, 58.8, 15.
23. (21) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 271, 55.2, 14.
24. (26) David Ragan, Ford, 270, 50.7, 13.
25. (30) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 270, 48.2, 12.
26. (35) Landon Cassill, Ford, 268, 49.6, 11.
27. (31) Ryan Sieg, Toyota, 266, 42.8, 0.
28. (33) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 265, 40.9, 9.
29. (36) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, 265, 38.5, 8.
30. (15) Kurt Busch, Ford, engine, 264, 73.8, 11.
31. (38) Timmy Hill, Chevrolet, 261, 34.1, 0.
32. (37) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 260, 32.2, 0.
33. (27) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 253, 36.0, 4.
34. (32) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, engine, 212, 41.0, 3.
35. (39) Gray Gaulding, Chevrolet, 207, 28.3, 2.
36. (34) Joey Gase, Toyota, accident, 129, 29.3, 0.
37. (19) Trevor Bayne, Ford, accident, 101, 46.2, 1.
38. (23) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, accident, 93, 50.0, 1.
39. (10) Brad Keselowski, Ford, accident, 89, 51.8, 1.
40. (8) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, accident, 87, 69.6, 3.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 138.615 mph.
Time of Race: 2 hours, 57 minutes, 55 seconds.
Margin of Victory: Under Caution.
Caution Flags: 9 for 0 laps.
Lead Changes: 9 among 4 drivers.
Lap Leaders: Ky. Busch 1-28; M. Truex 29; Ky. Busch 30-67; M. Truex 68-87 ;Ky. Busch 88-133; M. Truex 134-163; J. .Logano 164-170; M. Truex 171-225; D. Earnhardt 226-228; M. Truex 229-274
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Led, Laps Led): M. Truex, 5 times for 152 laps; Ky. Busch, 3 times for 112 laps; J .Logano, 1 time for 7 laps; D. Earnhardt, 1 time for 3 laps.
Top 16 in Points: 1. K. Larson, 710; 2. M. Truex, 709; 3. Ky. Busch, 609; 4. K. Harvick, 599; 5. C. Elliott, 560; 6. J. McMurray, 545; 7. D. Hamlin, 538;8. B. Keselowski, 536; 9. J. Johnson, 519; 10. C. Bowyer, 495; 11. M.Kenseth, 478; 12. J. Logano, 471; 13. R. Blaney, 462; 14. E. Jones, 426; 15. Ku. Busch, 419; 16. R. Stenhouse, 418.