CONCORD, N.C. – The only thing typical about Martin Truex Jr.’s performance at Charlotte Motor Speedway was the win.
The No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team screwed up in qualifying on Friday — a rare occurrence in a remarkable season for the series leader.
Truex failed to score points in the first stage of Sunday’s Bank of America 500, the first race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs’ Round of 12. That marked the first time since Daytona in July that Truex had finished outside the top 10 in Stage 1 of a race. But with the event winding down, the series leader was back in his usual spot, at the front of the field. Truex survived two late restarts, the last in overtime, to win for a series-best six times this season, the second time at Charlotte and the 13th time in his career.
“We qualified horribly, and I was mad about it,” said Truex, who started 17th instead of his customary position on or near the front row. (Crew chief) Cole (Pearn) was mad about it and in 20 minutes we’re like ‘All right, I think this is where we went wrong.’ And he’s like ‘Yeah, that’s where we went wrong. We screwed up, we’ll get them Sunday.’”
That’s exactly what Truex did, with substantial help from his pit crew, which picked up positions on every stop and finally got Truex the lead on Lap 234 during an exchange of green-flag pit stops where he leap-frogged past Kevin Harvick into the top spot.
“Unbelievable win,” Truex said. “Just a total team effort. Every single guy – every guy on this team just did a perfect job today, and I can’t be more proud of them—and this time of the year is just when you want it to happen.
“You dream about days like today. I don’t know if we had the best car, but we damn sure got it in Victory Lane.”
At the end of the two-lap shootout that sent the race three laps past its scheduled distance of 334 laps, Truex took the checkered flag 0.911 seconds ahead of runner-up Chase Elliott, who finished second for the second consecutive week and third time in the last four races.
“We needed to be a little better I think in the middle stage and not lose so much track position,” said Elliott, who was ninth in both the first and second stages. “That was where Martin came on and got his track position, and we lost ours, and it was just hard to get all of it back there toward the end.
“It was a hard-fought day and really, from where we were in those middle stages, I was proud of the way we fought back and were able to get back to the front. It’s frustrating to run like this. We’re definitely tired of running second. But, if we keep running like we are, hopefully the opportunities will be there.”
Still looking for his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory, Elliott has finished second four times this season and six times in his fledgling career.
Harvick ran third after leading a race-high 149 laps and hounding Truex from a restart on Lap 284 until NASCAR called a caution for debris on Lap 325. Harvick lost four spots on pit road under yellow on Lap 327 and never recovered.
Truex surged ahead from the restart on Lap 329, but Kurt Busch’s spin off Turn 2 on Lap 332 caused the 10th caution and forced the overtime. Again Truex pulled away, and Elliott passed pole-sitter Denny Hamlin for the second spot. Ultimately, Hamlin came home fourth behind Harvick, with Jamie McMurray trailing in fifth.
Truex leaves Charlotte with a guaranteed spot in the postseason’s Round of 8 and a 34-point lead in the standings over second-place Kyle Larson, who ran 10th on Sunday in one of the race’s fastest cars after two pit road glitches and contact from Kurt Busch’s car during the Lap 325 spin.
Kyle Busch squandered his advantage in playoff points when he smacked the outside wall in Turn 4 and brought out the fifth caution on Lap 136. With a resulting 29th-place finish, Busch fell from second to sixth in the standings, only 12 points clear of ninth-place Matt Kenseth, with treacherous and unpredictable Talladega on the schedule for next Sunday (2 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) as the final restrictor-plate track of the year.
He exited his No. 18 Toyota and rested on the infield grass from exhaustion, complaining of fumes from his damaged car. He was later release after a trip to the infield care center.
Only 25 points separate Elliott in fourth place from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 12th, with Talladega all but certain to scramble the standings before the Round of 12 elimination race at Kansas Speedway two weeks later.
Contributing: Staff reports