Martin Truex Jr. pours it on, rolls to repeat Kentucky win

SPARTA, Ky. – Martin Truex Jr. made it a clean sweep at Kentucky Speedway this weekend.

After starting from the pole, Truex won all three stages and successfully defended his victory from last year’s Quaker State 400 presented by Walmart.

Truex led 174 laps en route to his fourth win of the season and his 19th career victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

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“What a hell of a night this was,” Truex said. “We try to do this every single week but that just shows you how hard it is. We made it look easy last year, but it certainly wasn’t. Hats off to my guys for sticking with me all year. We’ve really been working hard on these race cars trying to figure them out.”

The No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team figured it out Saturday night. Truex held a 1.901-second advantage over Ryan Blaney at the finish line. Brad Keselowski rallied from an early pit-road penalty to finish third followed by Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Erik Jones, Aric Almirola, Kyle Larson and Joey Logano.

Truex’s Saturday night romp was similar to his 2017 triumph at the Sparta, Kentucky venue. He prevailed in all three stages for the second straight year, started from the front row in both races and posted similar totals in the laps-led category (174 on Saturday night vs. 152 last season).

Entering the weekend, Truex was adamant about the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team picking up additional Playoff points. He did just that by winning the first two stages of the race in dominant fashion. Truex led 51 of the first 80 laps and won the first caution-free segment by .963 seconds over Harvick. The third member of the “Big Three,” Kyle Busch, finished third.

Logano, who pitted on Lap 62, skipped pit road when the lead-lap cars came in for service on Lap 84 to gain the lead. However, it was short-lived as Kurt Busch, who opted for a two-tire stop between stages, muscled past him on the restart. But Truex was back at the point 10 laps later and extended his lead to 1.3-seconds over Kyle Busch for his second stage win of the evening and fifth of the season.

Stage 2 was a bit more eventful, when Alex Bowman, who also took two tires between stages, popped a right-front tire and slammed into the Turn 3 wall. The team was forced to take the No. 88 Chevrolet to the garage after 108 laps. The accident stopped a streak of three-consecutive top-10 finishes for Bowman and ended a DNF-free season.

“We were the last guy that didn’t have any DNF’s – we made it one week farther than everybody else,” said Bowman, who was making his milestone 100th start in NASCAR’s top division. “But it’s a bummer. We popped a right-front (tire) there. Don’t know if a brake rotor caused that or if we just had a tire go down. It’s unfortunate, but we will move on from it and go to the next one.”

Keselowski, who came from two laps down following a pit road speeding penalty in the first stage, battled from 33rd to 15th in Stage 2. A two-tire stop vaulted the No. 2 Team Penske Ford to first to start the final stage on Lap 164.

But as was the case with all of Truex’s other contenders, Keselowski fell to the No. 78 Toyota on Lap 201.

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“Obviously, we wanted to win here at Kentucky,” Keselowski said. “We had a solid run up front, led a bunch of laps there at one point. We really didn’t have anything there for the 78, but we led laps and kept them honest.”

Seven laps later, JJ Yeley hit the wall in Turn 4 to trigger the fourth and final caution. The No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing team called for a two-tire stop and Kurt Busch returned to the lead. But 14 laps later, Truex returned to the lead and held on for his second career Cup win at Kentucky.

Kyle Busch retains a 59-point lead over Harvick in the Cup standings. Truex, who remains third in the standings, trails Harvick by eight points.

Larson had an adventure-filled path to a ninth-place finish in the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 Chevrolet. He started at the rear of the field after missing driver introductions, then had a lengthy stop in the final stage to address a track-bar issue.

The series’ next race is the Foxwoods Resort Casino 301, scheduled for Sunday, July 22 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM) at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Contributing: Staff reports