NASCAR Cup: Martin Truex Jr. wins at Las Vegas
Martin Truex Jr. (78) leads the way during the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 12, 2017 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).
By AMANDA VINCENT
Martin Truex Jr. broke Ford’s stangle-hold on Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory lane early in 2017 on Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, with a dominating performance from behind the wheel of his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota that ended in victory lane at the end of the Kobalt 400. Truex won all stages and led 150 of 267 laps en route to his first win in Vegas.
“We finally got some (luck),” Truex said. “We definitely had our share of races where we’ve dominated and gave one away, and it looked like today was going to be another one of those. The runs just didn’t work out the way we needed them. We were struggling on the really long runs.”
Kyle Larson finished second, Chase Elliott was third, Joey Logano was fourth, and Logano’s Penske teammate Brad Keselowski finished fifth.
“Our day was really solid,” Larson said. “I think we finished second in the first stage, third in the second stage and then, finished second, here, in the race. Super happy with how our season has gotten started. Way better than where I have ever started a season, so I’m really happy about that. Proud of our team. I had fun today.”
While Truex and company were in victory lane, fireworks erupted on pit road, courtesy of Kyle Busch and members of Logano’s No. 22 Team Penske crew.
Last-lap contact between Logano and Busch sent Busch spinning toward pit road. After the race, Busch approached Logano on pit road, but Logano’s team pulled its driver away, and instead, a scuffle broke out between Busch and members of Busch’s team. After running in the top-five in the closing laps, Busch wound up 22nd at the finish.
“We were just racing hard, there, at the end,” Logano said. “I was underneath him on the backstretch, and he tried to crash me into the corner getting underneath Brad, there, and at that point, I was just trying to get through the corner. I was sideways all the way through and got into him. Nothing intentional. I understand his frustration; he crashed. The same thing could have happened into (turn) three what he did to me.”
Racing in their hometown of Las Vegas didn’t produce positive results for either of the Busch brothers Sunday. Older brother Kurt Busch struggled throughout the race, hitting the wall in the first half of the event and then making a green-flag pit stop with 66 laps to go for a battery change. He wound up with a 30th-place finish for his troubles.
“We went through a lot today,” Busch said. “Obviously, it wasn’t the day we were hoping to have with our Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford Fusion. We didn’t have the long-run speed or the balance, and we had an electrical issue that forced us to change batteries on pit road. We kept battling, we didn’t give up. I hoped to have a better run, here, in front of the hometown fans.”
Keselowski took the lead from Truex with 24 laps remaining and held him off on a restart with nine laps to go, but he fell of the pace with two laps remaining, and Truex was able to retake the lead.
“It’s frustrating, but you put yourself in position to win, and good things will happen,” Keselowski said. “That happened to us last week and didn’t happen this week, so you just pick up the pieces and move on. Luckily, they’re really big pieces. We’ve got a lot to be proud of.”
Keselowski started on the pole and led most of the first 80-lap stage of the race, but dropped back to fourth for a restart following a cautionn that came out on lap 68 for a Kevin Harvick wreck that was the result of a blown right-front tire. Logano restarted the race with the lead after staying out, and Jamie McMurray was second for the restart after taking only two tires. Truex also beat Keselowski off pit road.
When the race returned to green, Logano dropped to the back of the top-10, and Truex took the lead. After getting to the front, Truex led most of the remainder of the race.
Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch tried the same strategy near the end of stage two that Logano tried near the end of the first stage, and the result was the same. When the race restarted for the final stage-two laps, Truex returned to the lead.
Johnson also led 16 laps in the final stage when he stayed out longer than his fellow-competitors during a cycle of green-flag pit stops with just under 60 laps remaining. Hoping for a caution, Johnson finally gave in and pitted under green with 40 laps remaining, handing the lead back over to Truex.
Denny Hamlin finished sixth, Ryan Blaney was seventh, McMurray eighth, Matt Kenseth ninth, and Clint Bowyer finished 10th.