“Finally,” shouted Martin Truex Jr. on his radio after taking the checkered flag to capture the Go Bowling 400 NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway.
It was no doubt a redemption win for Truex who led a race high of 104 laps in his No. 78 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota. But leading the most laps at the spring race in Kansas has never been a problem for the Furniture Row Racing driver.
In three previous spring races at Kansas Truex also led the most laps on the 1.5-mile oval. What was different Saturday night in the Sunflower State was that he led the most important lap and that being the final one.
The closing laps tested Truex’s resolve. He appeared to have the race under control, but with 24 laps remaining the first of three late cautions were called.
It all came down to the restarts, and that’s when Truex was at his best, especially on the final restart with two laps remaining. He took the inside lane, and pulled off a delicate restart with precision. He never looked back as he sped home to victory for the first time in Kansas. His margin of victory over runner-up Brad Keselowksi was 1.1 seconds.
“When the pressure was on, when the money was on the line, we made the right moves, and everything worked out,” said Truex. “I knew if I didn’t come out of those restarts with the lead, I probably wasn’t going to win.
“Our Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota was really fast, but if we didn’t get the lead on the restarts, it probably took us at least 20 laps to get good enough to pass those guys for the lead. The leader had a huge advantage tonight, so to get the lead on those restarts was big, and I knew that was going to be the race, and luckily we were able to make it happen. It was great to give Auto-Owners a victory in its first race as a primary sponsor this season. We also won last year’s Southern 500 (Darlington) with the blue Auto-Owners Toyota.”
When asked how he felt to win in Kansas after so many close calls Truex said, “It’s definitely been a thorn in our side – that’s for sure. You know for years and years even before I was with this team, for whatever reason we always ran good here and never could close the deal. Proud to get these guys back in victory lane. This is our home race track — the guys from Colorado. Appreciate all the fans. We got a lot of fans from Colorado here today. I met a bunch of them before the race and hopefully they’re all psyched.”
The victory was the second of the season for Truex and the ninth of his career. Seven of his Cup victories have been with the Denver-based Furniture Row Racing team.
“Awesome day. Awesome weekend,” said an overjoyed Truex. “This team rocks, man, they’re so good. Cole (Pearn, crew chief) and the entire team here at the track and back at our shop in Denver. We just stuck with it all night. We had an awesome race car. There were times when we looked like we weren’t going to have a shot at it. We just kept fighting and made it happen.”
But with all the jubilation of the victory, Truex was also reflective about the race accident that injured Aric Almirola.
“Yeah, that’s the worst, you never want to see it,” said Truex. “Aric is a friend of mine. He volunteered to be in our fashion show next week, Catwalk for a Cause, our big foundation fundraiser. He and his wife, great people, family guy, and just such a nice family and such a nice guy. I was really scared when I saw that and worried for him, obviously. I hope it was just a safety precaution to get him out on a stretcher. I hope he’s doing well. Definitely thinking about Aric and his family.”
Truex qualified third and ran in the top three for the majority of the 267-lap race and led six different times, including the final 19 laps.
He remains second in driver points but leads the series with 15 playoff bonus points. He also picked up an additional 17 standing points for finishing second in the first stage and third in the second.
Following Truex and second-place Keselowski to the checkered flag were Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez, Jamie McMurray, Clint Bowyer and Trevor Bayne.
The race had 21 lead changes among nine drivers and there were 15 cautions for 61 laps. The race was also red flagged for 28 minutes.
The NASCAR Cup Series will be at Charlotte Motor Speedway the next two weekends. First on the schedule is the All-Star Race Saturday night May 20 followed by the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night May 28.