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NASCAR Cup: Martin Truex Jr. begins playoffs with Chicagoland win

Martin Truex Jr. celebrates with a burnout at Chicagoland Speedway after winning the Nickelodeon Tales of the Turtles 400 on Sept. 17, 2017 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).

Martin Truex Jr. celebrates with a burnout at Chicagoland Speedway after winning the Nickelodeon Tales of the Turtles 400 on Sept. 17, 2017 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).

By AMANDA VINCENT

Martin Truex Jr. got slimed Sunday, but it was a good thing, as it was a part of the race-winner’s celebration after the Nickelodeon Tale of the Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. The win was Truex’s fifth of the season and his second-straight victory at Chicaoland. And after winning the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season, his Chicagoland win at the start of the 10-race playoffs guaranteed his advancement to the second round.

“I’m just having fun,” Truex said.
Truex took his one and only lead when he passed Kevin Harvick and led the last 77 laps of the 267-lap race.

Chase Elliott got by Harvick with just under 40 laps remaining to take runner-up honors. Harvick was relegated to third. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson rounded out the top-five.

“We just had to execute and take what they’ll give you and not finish any worse than that,” Harvick said. ”I think we did that today. I felt like the 24 (Elliott) and the 78 (Truex) were a little better than us and we finished right where we should have.”

Truex, Harvick, Elliott and Kyle Busch wre the only four drivers to lead significant laps. Busch led a race-high 85 laps, including all but two laps in the first 80-lap stage that were led by Landon Cassill during a cycle of green-flag stops around lap 40. Busch won the opening stage, but after losing the lead to Harvick on lap 88, Busch pitted for a loose right-rear wheel on lap 97. He was, then, penalized for having too many crew members over the pit wall, and as a result, went two laps down. With new tires, he was able to erase one of those laps, but he ran a lap down throughout the remainder of the race.

Busch wasn’t the only playoff driver to have problems on pit road. Even the eventual race winner wasn’t immune. Truex gave up second to pit during the first cycle of green-flag stops and was, then, caught speeding on pit road. Despite the penalty, he managed to remain on the lead lap. During the first caution between the two 80-lap stages in the first 160 laps of the race, he made an extra pit stop to tighten loose lug nuts. He was back inside the top-10 by lap 80 and continued to work his way toward the front.

“I’m proud of our pit crew for doing what they did and everyone on this team,” Truex said. “It’s important to come here and not let the pressure get to you, and I think we did a good job of that. Every time you go to victory lane, it’s special. There’s just so many people to thank. I’m kind of speechless, but Barney (Visser, team owner), and everyone at TRD (Toyota Racing Development) in Costa Mesa building great engines and TRD Salisbury – Bass Pro, Tracker Boats – just everyone, thank you so much. It’s a dream come true and we’re having the time of our lives.”

Elliott won the second stage and led a total of 42 laps. Harvick was credited with 59 laps-led.

“Just a huge step in the right direction,” Elliott said. “Days like this are the days we are going to have to have.  There is no way around that.  I thought we had a solid day, overall.  Our car drove good; it had pace; our pit stops were good. I didn’t have anything for Martin.  I thought we made the most of our day; without some luck, I wasn’t going to get around him unless we had a late-race restart or something.  I had a solid day, and frankly, it is a lot better than we have been doing and we’ve got to have days like this to keep moving forward.”

After taking the lead from Busch, Harvick maintain the top spot until Elliott passed him on pit road during the second cycle of green-flag pit stops on lap 125. Elliott then remained the leader until the second stage ended on lap 160. Harvick retook the lead on the restart at the beginning of the final stage and ran up front until Truex took over up front.

Other playoff drivers that suffered pit-road problems included Austin Dillon and Kurt Busch, who both were assessed speeding penalties, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who made an unscheduled stop early to repair damage from early contact with the wall. Stenhouse also was penalized on pit road twice, once for speeding and also for a commitment line violation.

Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano finished sixth and seventh. Jimmie Johnson was eighth, Matt Kenseth ninth, and Jamie McMurray finished 10th.

Follow Auto Racing Daily on Twitter @AutoRacingDaily or like Auto Racing Daily on Facebook (facebook.com/autorcngdaily). Amanda’s also on Twitter @NASCARexaminer and has a fan/like page on Facebook (facebook.com/nascarexaminer).

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Posted by on September 17, 2017. Filed under Breaking News,Featured,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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