Playoff Opener at Vegas goes to Martin Truex Jr.

LAS VEGAS, NV — Martin Truex Jr. becomes the first driver to lock himself into the Round of 12 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series Playoffs. The No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota wins at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the South Point 400.

It is his fifth win of the season, but it also came during a string of races with a combination of finishes. Since his last win at the road course of Sonoma Raceway, he has earned three top fives, but also four finishes of 15th position or worse.

“We took a gamble, qualified 24th,’’ said Truex, who led 32 laps. “For a while, it wasn’t looking too smart with the 4 (Harvick) out front. Got the right adjustments in the end. Had a great car all day long.

“Hell of a way to make a championship run. Get some good bonus points, move on to the next round, see what we can do there.’’

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Kevin Harvick led 47 laps in total, but fell short in the closing laps to finish second.

“I knew the Gibbs cars would be tough,’’ the 2014 Cup champ said. “Martin was just so much better on the second half of the run. He made up that ground there, was able to stay close enough to us. My car started to get loose and push the front. It was just in kind of a four-wheel drift.

“We did some things this weekend that we probably will have to undo going forward. I think we can do a little bit better going forward.’’

Earlier in the race, Brad Keselowski appeared to have engine issues, with the No. 2 Ford team pulling the hood up to investigate internal issues with the racecar. Whether they were able to dodge a bullet or get diagnose the issue, the car seemed to run at full speed. He fell back as far as outside of the top 20 late in the race, but was able to charge his way through the field to finish third.

Chase Elliott was the highest finishing Chevrolet and finished fourth, leading 12 laps. Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five with his fifth place effort. The rest of the top 10 was filled with Playoff drivers: Alex Bowman, William Byron, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman respectively.

For Byron, it was his first Playoff race of his young career. However, his crew chief Chad Knaus has now been in every Playoff since its formation back in 2004.

“Survive the whole race and try to compete,” said Byron who finished a career-high at Vegas with a seventh place run. “I was really happy with that (finish). We have to be aggressive coming up. Richmond’s going to be a tough short track.”

Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin make it three-wide going into Turn 1 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Drivers got aggressive on the restarts, as many went three-wide into Turn 1. Photo courtesy of Rachel Schuoler for Speedway Media.

The rest of the Playoff drivers finished outside of the top 10. Aric Almirola led earlier in the race and stayed in the top 10 for most of the race, but finished 13th.

“The goal was to leave here in a decent in the points,” Almirola shared after the race. “We just gotta fight hard. Nobody’s going to give it to you. Every point matters, every stage matters.”

Denny Hamlin finished 15th, and Kyle Busch, with multiple issues throughout the race, wound up 19th. Busch hit the wall on Lap 4, and went two laps down early in the race. He was able to rally back to battle for a top five run until a collision with Garrett Smithley knocked the nose of the car and the splitter askew. The handling of the car seemed to be destroyed, and he fell back to finish a lap down.

Pole sitter Clint Bowyer fell back early and was not able to recover. The No. 14 Ford ended the event in the 25th position after leading just the opening lap. Erik Jones had transmission issues that put him behind the wall for 15 laps until the team could make repairs to the car. He finished 36th, 13 laps down. Kurt Busch hit the outside wall in Turn 3 after a left front flat tire caused from contact between him and Truex Jr. on a restart on Lap 185. He would finish in last place, the 39th position.

LOGANO SHOWING EARLY STRENGTH IN STAGE ONE

Logano started 22nd, but took over the race lead by Lap 34. Photo courtesy of Rachel Schuoler for Speedway Media.

As the green flag dropped, drivers were aggressive right out of the gate. While Bowyer was on pole for the first time in 12 years, Daniel Suarez took over the race lead over the next several laps after his Stewart Haas Racing teammate led the first lap. A couple drivers made quick climbs through the field, including non-Playoff driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who made his way up as high as third in the running order.

But the opening laps proved the drama of the Playoffs was alive and well. On Lap 4, Kyle Busch got loose in Turn 2 and hit the wall. The race stayed green, but he was forced to come down pit road a few laps later to replace a flat right rear tire. The crew spent a few extra seconds to pull sheet metal away to provide clearance for the new tires. He would eventually end up two laps down further into the stage.

Just passed halfway through Stage 1, Almirola took over the lead. However, that was short lived as Logano took over the race lead on Lap 34. He originally started in the 22nd position. During green flag pit stops, all drivers came for fuel and tires except for Michael McDowell, who wanted to stretch out his run as far as they could go. The driver of the No. 34 Ford eventually came down pit road, cycling the lead back to Logano who went on to win the stage.

PLAYOFF HOPES SCATTER FOR MANY DRIVERS IN STAGE TWO ONWARD

On the restart, Jones appeared to potentially miss a shift or have a mechanical issue with the transmission of his Toyota Camry as he was stuck in second gear. The crew diagnosed the issue behind the wall in the garage, and the Southern 500 winner was able to rejoin the race 15 laps down.

No one appeared to have any major issues during the second set of green flag pit stops, but Elliott had one of the biggest gains on pit road and found his way up to second in the later half of the stage. Truex was able to get around late in the run, but it Logano seemed to be the car to beat. Truex won Stage 2.

During the pit stops at the conclusion of the Stage 2, Larson received a safety violation penalty and was forced to restart at the tail end of the field. At the time, he had worked his way up into the third position. Front runners ran aggressive on the restart of the final stage. Byron made contact with a few drivers, and had a flat tire to spin on the exit of Turn 4. No contact with the wall was made, so he was able to continue but the yellow flag did fly. Teammate Elliott saw him on pit road as his crew replaced the tires, and backed off to allow him to stay on the lead lap.

Logano, Harvick and Elliott (outside to inside) battle for second behind race leader and eventual race winner Truex. Photo courtesy of Rachel Schuoler for Speedway Media.

Cars were four-wide during the restart. Contact between Truex and Kurt Busch caused the No. 1 Chevrolet Camaro to have a tire rub on the left front. The team went back on forth on if they should come down pit road, but the decision was just a lap too late. His left front tire gave way down the backstretch, and the 2004 champion was not able to get the car slowed in time. He hit the outside wall in Turn 3, and came to rest at the entrance to pit road. He would be the first car out of the race and finish in last place.

With 50 laps to go, Harvick led over Truex and Keselowski. The Team Penske driver had the hood up earlier in the race on pit road as the team was diagnosing strange performance issues, but they were able to resolve those and fight their way into the top three. The other big mover was Kyle Busch, who moved into the top 10 for the first time in the day.

In the closing laps, a few drivers decided to stretch their run as far as they could. Unlike Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race where fuel mileage played a potential role, it was definitely too far for their cars to go in one run. Two drivers included Byron and Larson stayed on track to see if a caution would get them in a strong position. At this point, all other Playoff drivers were a lap down according to scoring.

It was not meant to be. The race stayed green, and the rest of the field was forced to pit. Harvick was able to regain the lead, but Truex was able to fight his way around and take over the lead on Lap 248.

As Kyle Busch climbed his way to start battling for the top five, he chose the middle lane when battling with Elliott and Bowman. Smithley however was in the middle lane running slower than Busch expected. The No. 18 Toyota slammed into the rear of the lapped car, caving in the nose and tweaking the splitter on the right front. Busch fell far off pace to finish in 19th, one lap down.

Out front, Truex led the remaining 20 laps to win his fifth race of the season. The victory secures his spot into the next round. The Cup series will compete next at Richmond Raceway as the Round of 16 continues.


Source: Racing Reference

FinSt#DriverSponsor / OwnerCarLapsStatusLedPtsPPts
12419Martin Truex, Jr.Bass Pro Shops / Tracker ATVs & Boats   (Joe Gibbs)Toyota267running32536
234Kevin HarvickMobil 1   (Stewart Haas Racing)Ford267running47510
3182Brad KeselowskiAuto Trader   (Roger Penske)Ford267running0340
489Chase ElliottNAPA Filters   (Rick Hendrick)Chevrolet267running12390
52312Ryan BlaneyPPG   (Roger Penske)Ford267running1350
61988Alex BowmanNationwide   (Rick Hendrick)Chevrolet267running0320
71424William ByronLiberty University   (Rick Hendrick)Chevrolet267running6390
81542Kyle LarsonClover   (Chip Ganassi)Chevrolet267running2390
92222Joey LoganoPennzoil   (Roger Penske)Ford267running105471
10176Ryan NewmanOscar Mayer Bacon   (Jack Roush)Ford267running0270
11948Jimmie JohnsonAlly   (Rick Hendrick)Chevrolet267running0260
1273Austin DillonBass Pro Shops / Tracker Off Road   (Richard Childress)Chevrolet267running0310
13410Aric AlmirolaSmithfield   (Stewart Haas Racing)Ford267running3320
142121Paul MenardMenards / Monster   (Wood Brothers)Ford267running0230
151311Denny HamlinFedEx Ground   (Joe Gibbs)Toyota267running3260
162713Ty DillonGEICO   (Germain Racing)Chevrolet267running0210
1768Daniel HemricCessna / Beechcraft   (Richard Childress)Chevrolet267running0200
182837Chris BuescherNatural Light Seltzer   (JTG-Daugherty Racing)Chevrolet266running1190
192018Kyle BuschM&M’s Hazelnut   (Joe Gibbs)Toyota266running0180
20241Daniel SuarezHaas Automation   (Stewart Haas Racing)Ford266running29240
212595Matt DiBenedettoBarstool Sports   (Leavine Family Racing)Toyota266running9160
221138David RaganSelect Blinds   (Bob Jenkins)Ford266running0150
233143Bubba WallaceVictory Junction   (Richard Petty Motorsports)Chevrolet266running0140
241034Michael McDowellLove’s Travel Stops / International Trucks   (Bob Jenkins)Ford266running16130
25114Clint BowyerToco Warranty   (Stewart Haas Racing)Ford266running1120
261217Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.Sunny D   (Jack Roush)Ford265running0110
271647Ryan PreeceKroger / Nature Valley / Clorox   (JTG-Daugherty Racing)Chevrolet265running0100
283332Corey LaJoieSchluter Systems   (Archie St. Hilaire)Ford265running090
293000Landon CassillWilliam Hill Sports Book / Sahara Las Vegas   (StarCom Racing)Chevrolet265running000
302936Matt TifftSurface / Maui Jim   (Bob Jenkins)Ford264running070
313215Ross ChastainXchange of America   (Jay Robinson)Chevrolet262running000
323653J.J. YeleyAQRE.app   (Rick Ware)Ford260running000
333551B.J. McLeodJacob Companies   (Rick Ware)Ford259running000
343827Joe NemechekPremium Motorsports   (Jay Robinson)Chevrolet257running000
353452Garrett SmithleyHonest Abe Roofing   (Rick Ware)Ford255running000
362620Erik JonesCraftsman / Gas Monkey Garage   (Joe Gibbs)Toyota254running020
373777Reed SorensonSpire MotorsportsChevrolet250running010
383966Joey GaseNevada Donor Network   (Carl Long)Toyota249running000
3951Kurt BuschGear Wrench   (Chip Ganassi)Chevrolet187crash080

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