Step aside Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello, the day belonged to Martin – that’s Martin Truex Jr., who took the lead with two laps remaining to win Sunday’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 Sprint Cup Series race at Chicagoland Speedway.
The victory in the Chase opener automatically advances Truex to the next round in NASCAR’s version of the playoffs. The current round of 16 drivers has two races remaining – Sept. 25 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Oct. 2 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. The next round of 12 drivers starts Oct. 8 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“Today was obviously a big win for us,” said Truex. “Just excited for everybody. I mean, this is what we came here to do. It was cool to be able to put it out there and make it happen.”
Truex’s victory at the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway was his third of the season and second in the last three Sprint Cup races. Sandwiched in between the Darlington and Chicagoland wins was a third-place finish at Richmond.
Also, by leading 32 laps, Truex took over as the season’s lap leader at 1266.
The whirlwind race had a range of emotions for Truex, who looked dominant early in his No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota. After starting sixth, he vaulted to the lead on Lap 22 of 270 and held that position for 30 consecutive circuits.
But then came a sudden turn of misfortune for the No. 78 team. While running second, Truex’s right-front tire shredded, forcing him to pit road under green flag conditions. He returned to action in 21st place and a lap down. And that’s when Truex turned up the wick and drove his heart out to get back in contention.
“The mindset was, all right, this isn’t good, this is bad,” explained Truex. “I really wish that this didn’t happen, but it did. How are we going to overcome it? That’s all you can do at that point. You never give up and just keep fighting. We know we had a fast car.”
With 10 laps remaining, it was doubtful that Truex, who running second, was going to catch the lead car driven by Chase Elliott. But with five laps to go, a caution came out and the Furniture Row Racing over-the-wall crew came through on the money stop, getting Truex off of pit road ahead of Elliott. Though three cars didn’t pit, Truex bolted from fourth to the lead soon after the green flag waved for the two-lap overtime shootout.
“The pit crew was spot on and getting four tires at the end was a great call,” said Truex.
When asked if he thought he would have caught Elliott for the lead if the caution didn’t come out, Truex said, “First off, I want to say I feel for Chase. I know what he’s going through. He did a great job and I wasn’t going to catch him with five laps remaining.”
Truex added, “What this victory means is that we’re guaranteed to make the second round, and the next two weeks we don’t have to worry about flat tires or somebody running into us and wrecking us. We don’t have to worry about the things we can’t control.”
Finishing positions 2-10 in order went to: Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Alex Bowman.
The race had 17 lead changes among nine drivers and there were four cautions for 22 laps.