NASCAR Cup: Martin Truex Jr. starts Chase with Chicagoland win
Martin Truex celebrates winning the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 16, 2016 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).
By AMANDA VINCENT
Martin Truex Jr. became the first winner in the 2016 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup and ensured his advancement to the second round of the 10-race Chase with his win in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., on Sunday.
“We have more races to win,” Truex said. “The more we can win, the better.”
Joey Logano finished second, Chase Elliott was third, Ryan Blaney fourth, and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-five.
The win came down to a two-lap sprint to the finish after Michael McDowell blew a tire, bringing out the fourth and final caution of the race with four laps to go.
“I expected it (the caution),” Elliott said. “We’ve all watched this stuff long enough. We know these races don’t go green that long, typically. We know that we see late-race cautions way more often than not.”
Elliott was the race leader when the yellow flag waved for the final time. Truex was second. But Blaney, Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards stayed out while everyone else on the lead lap pitted. As a result, they restarted in the top-three positions.
“The decision (to stay out) wasn’t difficult at all,” Blaney said. “We kind of made that decision before everyone else came (down pit road) and we had nothing to lose as far as points. I wish a couple more cars stayed out. You never know.”
Truex got out of the pits ahead of Elliott and restarted fourth. When the race returned to green, he quickly got up to 2nd and then took the lead from Blaney just before the white flag.
Elliott led 75 laps and Truex 32, with most of Truex’s laps-led coming early in the race before a tire issue sent him down pit road for an unscheduled green-flag stop on lap 69. He got back on the lead lap during a lap 120 caution and was back inside the top-five just past lap 200.
“Oh my goodness,” Truex said. “I guess the racing gods don’t want us to lead too much.”
Jimmie Johnson led the most laps, running up front for 118 laps before a late-race pit-road speeding penalty.
“I just can’t believe I got in trouble down there leaving the pits,” Johnson said. “I feel terrible for these guys. It should have been a top-five day, but I will back down pit road even more and try not to make that mistake.”
Johnson got up front with the help of a caution that interrupted a cycle of green-flag pit stops on lap 49. He was on pit road when the yellow flag waved, but his team continued service on the car and he managed to stay on the lead lap. When other lead lap cars pitted under yellow, Johnson stayed out and cycled to the race lead.
While the caution helped Johnson, it hurt Kevin Harvick. Like Johnson, Harvick was on pit road when the yellow flag waved, but unlike Johnson, his team didn’t continue service. Instead, Harvick was sent back to the track after two tires were changed, and he was called back to pit road during the caution so his crew could change the other two. He wound up a lap down and remained a lap down for the remainder of the race.
As Harvick ran a lap down, Johnson continued to run up front until losing the lead to Elliott on lap 180. Johnson was running third to Elliott and Truex when he was nabbed speeding on pit road.
Denny Hamlin finished sixth, despite reporting a possible engine problem throughout the second two-thirds of the race. Finishing seventh through 10th were Kahne, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Alex Bowman, subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Worth noting — like Johnson, Busch and Kenseth also were among drivers assessed pit-road speeding penalties.
Chase drivers finishing outside the top-10 included Jamie McMurray in 11th, Johnson 12th, Kurt Busch 13th, Edwards 15th, Tony Stewart 16th, Kyle Larson in 18th, Harvick 20th and Chris Buescher 28th.
“It was a long day,” Buescher said. “We worked hard to try to get it better. I am proud of the guys for not giving up. We had a decent day on pit road and didn’t get into anything; we just couldn’t keep the track position out there. Not the finish we wanted, but we will get a little better and go get Loudon.”