SPARTA, Ky. — Martin Truex Jr.’s commanding 14-second lead with two laps to go evaporated in Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.
The engine expired on Kurt Busch’s No. 41 car corners before Truex took the white flag, setting up NASCAR Overtime and giving his competition one final shot at taking away the win from the New Jersey native.
Truex stayed out while the other seven lead-lap cars pitted, but got the restart of the night in overtime and drove away from Kyle Larson for his 10th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory.
“I thought we were dead. I thought we were done. This is completely unbelievable. I’m so excited to win here. We had a shot last year and it got away from us, so I wanted to win here so, so bad after that. It’s sweet redemption.” “What an awesome crowd; I hope they enjoyed it. This was a whole lot of fun.”
The Furniture Row Racing driver won all three stages and led a race-high 152 laps on the night. Truex and pole-sitter Kyle Busch combined to lead all but 10 laps of the event.
“You’re worried every lap, waiting for a caution, especially at the end,” Truex said. “Last 30, last 20, last 10 and then when you get inside of five to go you’re like, ‘Oh my God, there’s no way there’s not going to be a caution … and sure enough, there was. Fortunately I was able to hold them off there. This thing was so stout, and I got a good push from Larson that helped us a bunch. Just a great night.”
Kyle Larson rallied from his 40th-starting spot and a speeding penalty to finish second at the 1.5-mile track. Larson started shotgun on the field after his No. 42 car failed pre-qualifying inspection three times, not being able to turn a lap but didn’t hinder Larson’s charge towards the front.
“I don’t know what we could have done to beat (Truex),” Larson said. “He was extremely fast and had a huge lead there. It would have been fun to get to race him, because I feel like I had the second best car today. It would have been interesting to get a restart with him … hang with him earlier in that last run there, I don’t know.”After not being able to qualify, to bring the Target Chevy home second and then having my speeding penalty … is a good day.”
“I’m mad at myself for making that mistake; I don’t know if it would have affected the outcome, but you never know.”
Larson lined up behind Truex on the final restart but the 78 pulled away from everyone heading into Turn 1. Kyle Busch was able to hang with Truex briefly before being shuffled back to fifth on two tires.
Chase Elliott took four tires during the yellow and stormed his way to third until the caution came out for a four-car wreck on the frontstretch coming to the white flag. Nevertheless, the 21-year-old driver once again ended up behind Larson in the running order, still searching for his first-career Cup win.
“We got two to go there and I thought sure we were going to go to the end, but we didn’t.,” Elliott said. “Really proud of this NAPA team. I feel like we just executed the night well, had really good pit stops and just made the most of a good car. We weren’t perfect, but if we keep putting some top-fives together, we’ll see what we can do.” “I feel like we’ve been solid. We haven’t been phenomenal, we haven’t been perfect, but I feel like we’ve been solid.”
“Those are the kind of days you have to have. Our pit stops have been incredible over the past three or four weeks; we’ve gained, if not maintained on pit road … and that’s huge. That’s what you have to do. Our race strategy has been nice, and all the guys on the box deserve a lot of credit for that. I’m looking forward to getting down the road the next few weeks and trying to get better.”
Denny Hamlin was the highest-finishing Joe Gibbs Racing driver in fourth while teammate Kyle Busch completed the top-five. Nine cars finished on the lead lap and at one point, Truex lapped up to eighth before the caution flew with two laps to go.
Jimmie Johnson registered his second last-place finish in his Cup career after being involved in a lap 87 crash, which started when Brad Keselowski got loose in Turn 3 and went spinning, also collecting Clint Bowyer along with the seven-time champ.
Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 slowed for nine cautions after a treacherous weekend on the new-old Kentucky Speedway pavement. Toyota also swept the day as Kyle Busch won the rain-postponed XFINITY Series race earlier in the day.
Next up for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is a visit to the Granite State for the Overton’s 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.