Martin Truex Jr. didn’t have the strongest car in the race, though he won a stage, and didn’t pitch one of his signature clinic performances. But his team gambled in the closing laps by staying out under caution, and he held off drivers with fresher tires to win at Pocono.
He, along with Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson, chose to stay out during a caution with 21 laps to go. He held off Larson on two consecutive restarts to score his 17th career victory in 455 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts.
“You’re always concerned on restarts. You just never know. So much can happen on those things, but we were luckily able to get a good one. Just can’t say enough about everyone on this team. Everybody, Cole (Pearn, crew chief) and all the guys really did a good job last night. We had a good practice yesterday. Really, it’s been a good weekend, overall. Just kind of been a sane weekend. I feel like we’re getting back to what we were doing last year.”
It’s his second career victory at Pocono Raceway.
“It’s always fun to win, but especially when you beat the best guys out there. Those two guys (Larson and Harvick) were so fast today. Honestly, we were all really equal. It was a matter of who could get out front. The 4 (Harvick) and I stayed (out) on tires. We felt like in practice, we were really fast on scuffs. So Cole made a good call there to stay out. Once we got out in clean air, this thing was like a rocket ship.”
Larson, Kyle Busch, Harvick and Brad Keselowski rounded out the Top-five.
“We weren’t quite as fast as what I thought we’d be after practice,” Larson said. “I ran probably sixth or seventh all day long and finished second. Was happy about that because I felt like obviously we were at a little bit of a disadvantage on tires there, but the track position overcame that. But I felt like if I didn’t have a good restart on any one of those, I would have fell back outside the top 5 from those guys on fresher tires. Happy we finished second but needed a lot more to kind of compete with the three guys that ran up front all day.”
“Just real unfortunate there that once we all thought we had that caution that brought us all down pit road for what we thought was the final stop of the day, we got tires, we beat everybody off pit road and was in control of the restart and then in control of the race when we were leading there, and all of a sudden about 10, 11 laps into that run, there was a caution in Turn 1 for what looked to me to be a shoe booty,” Busch said. “Somebody took their booty off, I guess, and chucked it out their window. That was kind of weird that we saw a caution for that, but safety comes first, so that just kind of derailed our strategy, if you will, and we lost this race last year on not pitting in that situation and getting beat by tires, and so we pitted this year for tires and got beat by those that didn’t pit.”
“We had a good car all day, just came down to really losing control of the race on the last pit stop,” Harvick said. “Really not pitting or pitting didn’t really seem to matter. We lost control to the 18 (Kyle Busch) and wound up losing a couple more spots on the restart starting on the inside, and that was the end of the day. Car was fast and everybody did a great job, it just didn’t work out.”
Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano and Chase Elliott rounded out the Top-10.
“My guys kept fighting all day long,” Johnson said. “That was a hard-fought eighth place finish. We just need to keep improving, but we’re slowly chipping away at it.”
Ryan Blaney led the field to green at 2:15 p.m. He led the first 11 laps, before Kevin Harvick used a run off Turn 3 to pass him down the frontstretch for the top spot. Blaney opted to pit early in the run and work the race like a road course race (fuel window was roughly 35 laps). While he was among a few drivers that pitted early in the fuel run, most of the field pitted 10 laps after Blaney, with Harvick pitting on Lap 26. Jimmie Johnson — who’d led a career total of 169,291 laps, entering this race — led his first lap of the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season on Lap 27. When he pitted on Lap 29, Brad Keselowski took over the top spot. After he pitted from the lead on Lap 33, Harvick — who passed Kyle Busch exiting Turn 3 two laps prior — cycled back to the lead.
Martin Truex Jr. got a run down the short-chute to pass Harvick through Turn 3 to take the lead on Lap 43, and drove on to win the first stage on Lap 50. Keselowski took only two tires under the caution and exited pit road with the lead.
Back to green on Lap 57, Harvick got a run going into Turn 1 and took the lead back from Keselowski. Running third, Keselowski pitted on Lap 67 to short-pit the second stage. The rest of the leaders followed suite on Lap 78, with Harvick pitting from the lead the following lap, and handing the lead to Darrell Wallace Jr. Harvick ran him down and passed him to retake the lead on Lap 84, and drove on to win the second stage.
For most of the final stage, Harvick ran unchallenged. But after Derrike Cope got turned by Kyle Larson in Turn 3 with 36 laps to go, he lost the lead on pit road to Kyle Busch.
Back to green with 31 to go, Busch shot ahead of Harvick going into Turn 1. A crush panel in the middle of Turn 1 brought out the caution with 21 to go. Truex, Harvick, Chase Elliott and Larson opted to stay out, Blaney, Aric Almirola and Austin Dillon exited pits first by taking just two tires and Kyle Busch, Hamlin and Keselowski, the first cars on four new tires, rounded out the Top-10.
“…clean air is always super important here,” Larson said after the race. “He and the 4 (Harvick) were way better than I was at the end, but I was just able to kind of stay just low enough on exit I felt like to keep them tight behind me, so yeah, clean air is just important everywhere, but especially I feel like when you get to these fast tracks that are pretty flat.”
Restarting with 17 to go, Truex shot out to a lead of over a second, while Harvick was usurped for second by Larson.
“…when you’re on the outside, the leader typically chooses the outside for the launch and to get going, and so he can control the guy on his inside and not get in a bad aero spot so that just makes that lane accelerate just that instant sooner, and that momentum just kind of rolls,” Busch said. “But I thought Larson and I had a pretty good run there on that final restart where I pushed him back up to the back of the 78, and he didn’t hit him enough in order to get him up the track a little farther so I could squeak on under there and have a three‑wide battle and probably a whole bunch of fire and flames and parts on the outside of the racetrack in Turn 2, but maybe next time.”
Rounding Turn 1 with 15 to go, Hamlin got loose in Turn 1 and made contact with Alex Bowman, sending him into the wall, while he slid down and hit the inside wall.
Restarting with 10 to go, Erik Jones got turned when he jumped out of line with Joey Logano, who was pushing him on the restart, spun down the track and hit the inside wall with his left-rear corner panel.
Back to green with seven to go, Truex swung down and back up the frontstretch to block Larson’s advance and drove on to victory.
NUTS & BOLTS
The race lasted two hours and 52 minutes, at an average speed of 139.535 mph. There were 11 lead changes among seven different drivers, and six cautions for 23 laps.
Busch leaves with an 87-point lead over Harvick.C1814_UNOFFRES