KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Martin Truex Jr. survived a restart penalty and an unscheduled pit stop to return to what has become a thoroughly familiar locale — Victory Lane — in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.
In a dramatic race that brought Truex his seventh Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win of the season, calamity eliminated four drivers from the series Playoffs. Jamie McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Matt Kenseth and Kyle Larson all saw their postseason hopes end with the final event in the Round of 12.
The shocker was Larson, who fell out of the race on Lap 77 when his engine exploded on the frontstretch after dropping a cylinder a few laps earlier. The driver of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet finished 39th in a 40-car field and dropped to ninth in the standings, nine points behind Jimmie Johnson.
The seven-time champion moved into the Round of 8 despite spinning twice in the space of five laps late in the race. But Johnson was the prime beneficiary when NASCAR parked Kenseth, after a massive wreck on Lap 198, for a violation of the damaged vehicle policy — specifically having too many crewmen over the wall to work on the car on pit road.
Racing just hours after Furniture Row Racing road-crew fabricator Jim Watson succumbed to a heart attack, Truex finished 2.284 seconds ahead of runner-up Kurt Busch to become the first driver to sweep both Kansas races in the same year. The victory was Truex’s second at the track and the 14th of his career.
“Just can’t say enough about all these guys on this Furniture Row/Bass Pro Toyota,” Truex said. “Just really proud of them. Definitely racing with heavy hearts today with losing Jim (Watson) last night. Want to send our condolences to his family and all of his friends. He was a heck of a guy and a great worker and put a lot of speed in these Furniture Row Toyotas, so glad we could get him one here.
“Excited to get another one here at Kansas. This feels really awesome. It’s really Furniture Row’s home track (closest to the team’s Denver, Colorado, headquarters). It just feels really good to finally get – to finally get another one here. We got that one in the spring after so many heartbreaks, and then today it looked like it was going to happen and we just persevered.”
Ryan Blaney charged from a 40th-place starting spot — the result of an inspection failure after qualifying — to finish third and cruise into the Round of 8.
“We started off in the back, and I was able to make some good ground early,” said Blaney, who starts the Round of 8 as the seventh seed, 60 points behind Truex, who increased his series-leading playoff point total to 69.
“We were able to run up through there and made good adjustments throughout the day, which got us in a spot to be up toward the front towards the end and advance. It was a solid day for our team. We overcame a lot coming from the back, and they should be proud of that.”
Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin ran fourth and fifth, respectively, to advance to the Round of 8. Kevin Harvick also stayed alive in the postseason with an eighth-place result, as did Kyle Busch with a 10th-place finish.
Johnson came home 11th after avoiding serious damage during his two spins, the first of which sent his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet sliding across the frontstretch grass.
WATCH: See Johnson’s spins
It wasn’t a problem-free race for Truex either. On a Lap 36 restart after a competition caution, Truex dipped below the white line on the apron before reaching the start/finish line—a point of admonition in the drivers’ meeting earlier in the day.
RELATED: Truex commits restart violation
After serving a pass-through penalty, Truex remained on the lead lap and began to work his way forward, but an unscheduled pit stop on Lap 91 because of a loose wheel put the No. 78 Toyota a lap down. Brett Moffitt’s crash into the Turn 2 wall with four laps left in Stage 2 kept him on the lead circuit after the other contending cars had come to pit road for green-flag stops.
“Just couldn’t believe some of the things that were happening and thought there was no way that we were going to win that race at some point,” Truex said. “That first restart violation really caught me by surprise and that hurt, but that wasn’t the last blow we had to take. There was the loose wheel we had to pit for under green and getting a lap down and being able to stay out through that last stage and get that lap back was crucial.
“Without that, we didn’t have a shot. Then we got back mid-pack and had a couple really good restarts to get some track position and then really fought the car through that part of the race and had to make some big adjustments. I felt like at the end we got dialed in pretty good. I’m pretty happy with that.”