It’s ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ for Truex

by Tucker White On Sun, Sep. 18, 2016

Martin Truex Jr. celebrates victory at Chicagoland Speedway. Photo: Noel Lanier/OnPitRoad.com

Despite a flat right-rear tire early in the race, Martin Truex Jr. fought back to score the victory in the Windy City.

Under clear blue skies, Kyle Busch led the field to the green flag at 2:49 p.m. He held the lead for the first 21 laps before Truex powered by to take it on lap 23. A round of green flag stops started on lap 48, but was cut short by a rogue tire that came from the stall of Aric Almirola and brought out the first caution of the race on lap 49. This was a major point in the race as Jimmie Johnson was on pit road when the caution flew, crossed the start/finish line before Truex and remained on the lead lap. Kevin Harvick, who worked his way from 38th to eighth, did not and was trapped a lap down.

The race restarted on lap 56 with Johnson in the lead. Truex made an unscheduled stop for a flat right-rear tire on lap 70. He was running second at the time and rejoined the race in 21st.

Green flag pit stops were the game play of the day as the next round of stops commenced on lap 103. Johnson pitted the next lap and handed the lead to Brad Keselowski. He pitted the next lap and the lead cycled back to Johnson.

The second caution of the race flew on lap 119 for Brian Scott getting loose and spinning out in turn 4 as he was trying to get down onto pit road.

After the race restarted on lap 126, it settled into “ride around until the next round of stops.” The next round of stops came at lap 172. Johnson pitted from the lead that lap, Keselowski pitted from the lead two laps later and the lead cycled back to Johnson.

Chase Elliott took the race lead for the first time on lap 182 about 11 laps before debris on the backstretch brought out the third caution of the race on lap 193.

Not much happened after the race went green on lap 199 until the final round of green flag stops began with 33 laps to go. The lead went as follows: Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman and back to Elliott.

A shredded right-front tire on the No. 95 of Michael McDowell brought out the fourth caution of the race with five laps to go and forced overtime. Everyone except Blaney, Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards pitted under the caution. Truex exited ahead of Elliott on pit road.

The race restarted with two laps to go. Blaney was no match on older tires for Truex on newer tires. Truex made easy work of passing him on the backstretch and drove on to score the victory in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400.

“Oh my goodness, I guess the racing gods don’t want us to lead too much,” Truex said. “What can I say about everyone at Furniture Row Racing, Toyota, TRD (Toyota Racing Development), Bass Pro Shops, Denver Mattresses – just everybody that makes this possible – Sprint, the fans have given us a ton of support, not only over the years but the last two has definitely helped us. This feels good.”

It’s Truex’s sixth career victory in 396 Sprint Cup Series starts, third of 2016, first at Chicagoland Speedway, 13th top-10 finish of the season and third top-10 finish in 11 races at Chicagoland.

“It’s just unbelievable,” he added. “Proud of the effort by my guys – that’s why you never give up and you fight until the end no matter what. We had just an unbelievable race car today and led a bunch in the beginning. We had that tire issue and I knew it wasn’t over and there was a long way to go. Guys kept their heads in it and kept it up at the end when it counted. It was a total team effort. I am more proud of these guys – more proud to drive their race cars. It’s just unbelievable to start the Chase this way. We have been so good all year long with winning a few weeks ago at Darlington and I felt like that gave us some momentum to just continue that this weekend.”

Truex’s car failed post-race LIS inspection and any penalty resulting from this will be announced Wednesday.

Joey Logano came home runner-up in his No. 22 Team Penske Ford.

“It was awesome execution by the 22 team,” Logano said of his race. “From every angle. We had a very fast race car and were awesome on pit road. You want to talk about pressure, not just Chase pressure, but coming down at the end of the race to try to win, they executed and had an awesome pit stop and beat the 11 out and ultimately gives us a second place finish. I couldn’t be more proud of the team and the way we executed and attacked today. We will take this momentum and run with it the next nine weeks.”

It’s his 19th top-10 finish in 2016 and fourth in eight races at Chicagoland.

Elliott led 75 laps on his way to rounding out the podium in his No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

Asked what was going through his mind when the caution came out when it appeared the race was his, he said “nothing is yours until it’s over. I mean that is part of life man. You are not dumb, we have all watched this stuff long enough we know these races don’t go green that long. We see more cautions come out at the end of these races than we do not. That is just part of it, you’ve got to expect it and be able to embrace it and move forward. I feel like we did a good job controlling the things that we could control today.

“Like I said, there are some things you just can’t control with the amount of guys that stay out and where you line up on a restart,” he added. “We played the cards we were dealt and came up short.”

Blaney led eight laps on his way to a fourth-place finish in his No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford.

“It was a long day for us for sure,” Blaney said. “We passed a lot of cars. We didn’t start good. We started 22nd and worked on the car all It paid off since we finished a little bit better than we were going to. That’s a true testament to this team. We didn’t start off great but worked on the car all day. Taking a risk like that. Sometimes they don’t pay off. This one did. It was a good run for us. Hopefully we can do something like that in the next 10 weeks.”

Asked how difficult it was to stay out on old tires, Blaney said it “wasn’t difficult at all. We kind of made that decision before everyone else came and we had nothing to lose as far as points. I wish a couple more cars stayed out. You never know. Those guys were on me so fast. We had a really good car all day. We started way back in the field and made it up there pretty quickly. We got our car decent at the end. We gambled and I prefer to do that. I prefer to take a gamble to stay out and try to hold those guys off.”

Keselowski led seven laps on his way to rounding out the top-five in his No. 2 Penske Ford.

Denny Hamlin led two laps on his way to a sixth-place finish in his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Kahne finished seventh in his No. 5 HMS Chevrolet. Busch led 21 laps on his way to an eighth-place finish in his No. 18 JGR Toyota. Matt Kenseth finished ninth in his No. 20 JGR Toyota. Bowman led six laps on his way to rounding out the top-10 in his No. 88 HMS Chevrolet.

Jamie McMurray finished 11th, Jimmie Johnson led a race high of 118 laps on his way to a 12th place finish, Kurt Busch finished 13th, Austin Dillon finished 14th, Carl Edwards finished 15th, Tony Stewart finished 16th, Kyle Larson finished 18th, Harvick finished 20th and Chris Buescher rounded out the Chase drivers in 28th.

Johnson’s car also failed post-race LIS inspection. Any penalty resulting from this will be announced on Wednesday.

The race lasted two hours, 47 minutes and 24 seconds at an average speed of 145.161 mph. There were 17 lead changes among nine different drivers and four cautions for 22 laps.

Truex leaves with a one point lead over Keselowski in the points standings.

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