SPARTA, Kentucky – 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.
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.
“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 certainly figured it out on Saturday night. Truex held a 1.901-second advantage over Ryan Blaney at the finish line. Brad Keselowski finished third followed by Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Erik Jones, Aric Almirola, Kyle Larson and Joey Logano.
“It’s a positive, that’s for sure,” Blaney said of his fourth top-five finish and best result of the season. “I hate it. I thought we were in a good spot there restarting fourth and Martin struggled a little bit the first couple laps and I thought I could get by him, but just couldn’t quite get a run on him. I thought we had a shot at it tonight, but I’m really proud of the gains we made all race though, to be honest with you. I didn’t think we were a second-place car at the beginning of the race, and we got a lot better throughout the night so (crew chief) Jeremy Bullins and everybody did a great job.”
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 and ended a DNF-free season.
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.
“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 Kevin Harvick in the Cup standings. Truex, who remained third in the standings, trails Harvick by eight points.
Christopher Bell maneuvers from back to win at Kentucky
SPARTA, Kentucky – A spin didn’t stop Christopher Bell from the win in the ALSCO 300 at Kentucky Speedway.
The Joe Gibbs Racing rookie was going for the pole in the final round of qualifying and spun out before completing the lap. Bell was forced to start from the rear of the field but recovered for his first win on the 1.5-mile track and his second of 2018.
“This is really special,” Bell said. “I keep making mistakes. I have to stop doing that to my team. They build really fast race cars and I made another mistake there in qualifying and I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get back. But this Camry was good enough that I was able to get back around these guys.”
Hemric, who passed Kyle Busch on Lap 143 and led eight laps, settled for second.
“I can’t make excuses,” Hemric said. “I should have gotten it done.”
Kyle Busch led a race-high 111 laps before finishing third. Justin Allgaier, Cole Custer, Tyler Reddick, John Hunter Nemechek, Ryan Truex, Paul Menard and Austin Cindric rounded out the top 10.
Busch took the lead from Custer, the pole sitter, after just 14 laps and held a 3.218-second lead when he won Stage 1. Custer finished second followed by Nemechek, Matt Tifft, Cindric, Brandon Jones, Reddick, Allgaier, Hemric and Sadler. Bell moved up to 28th after the first lap and finished 14th in the first stage.
Busch retained the lead following service on pit road. Ty Majeski, who rolled off second, gained 14 positions with a two-tire pit stop. Custer, Nemechek, Cindric, Tifft, Brandon Jones, Menard, Reddick and Sadler completed the top 10 when the race returned to green for Stage 2 on Lap 52.
Majeski’s track position was short-lived after he slid up in to the wall on the restart exiting Turn 2. He dropped to 20th before pitting on Lap 57. Busch set sail with Custer, Cindric, Nemechek and Jones in tow. Reddick moved up to sixth, followed by Allgaier, Bell, Menard and Sadler.
Busch tagged the wall on Lap 64 but Custer couldn’t take advantage of the champion’s rare mistake. Nemechek, however, passed the Custer on Lap 71. He used the low line to take the point from Busch on Lap 80. The rookie driver held the lead by .396 seconds over Busch for his first Xfinity stage win. Custer finished third followed by Cindric, Jones, Allgaier, Bell, Menard and Hemric.
The final stage was rife with cautions. Busch retook the lead on pit road followed by Custer, Nemechek, Cindric, Allgaier and Bell. The third caution occurred when Josh Williams clipped Blake Jones in Turn 4 on Lap 99. Busch retained the lead followed by Custer, Allgaier, Bell, Nemechek, Brandon Jones and Hemric.
Entering Turn 2 on the Lap 104 restart, Nemechek slid into Brandon Jones and the No. 19 hit the wall to trigger the fourth caution. The Joe Gibbs Racing crew was forced to push Jones behind the wall.
“Gosh, one of our really good mile-and-a-half cars here,” said Jones, who finished 36th. “This has got to be a kill or be killed situation on these restarts.”
Busch elected to take the inside lane for the Lap 108 restart with Custer, Bell, Allgaier and Hemric in tow. Reddick, Tifft, Nemechek, Cindric and Menard rounded out the top 10. Bell grabbed second from Custer and closed in behind Busch. Hemric followed for third. Nemechek moved by Custer for fourth on Lap 125.
Majeski’s misfortunes continued on Lap 132 when he spun through the front stretch to ignite the fifth caution. Busch retained the lead coming to the Lap 139 restart. A two-tire stop by the No. 5 JR Motorsports team allowed Michael Annett to move up to second. Nemechek lined up third, but lost power attempting to save fuel. He was forced to pit for a new battery and dropped to 21st, one lap down. Hemric moved up to third followed by Custer, Menard, Allgaier, Cindric, Tifft and Bell.
Annett slapped the wall on the restart. Hemric passed Busch for the lead coming off of Turn 2 on Lap 143. Allgaier moved passed the No. 18 Toyota for second on Lap 145. Tifft slid up into Sadler coming out of Turn 2 to bring out the sixth caution on Lap 146.
Hemric controlled the Lap 151 restart, but Allgaier moved to the lead on the outside coming through Turns 3 and 4. Joey Gase spun in Turn 4 for the seventh caution of the night with 39 laps remaining in the race.
With a push from Bell, Allgaier pulled out to a three-car lead on the Lap 166 restart. Bell moved up to second while Hemric dropped to third. Busch, who dropped to eighth after pitting during the sixth caution, rebounded to fourth followed by Custer.
Allgaier held a .3-second lead over Bell with 20 laps to decide the contest. Bell went low coming to the line on Lap 184 for the lead. Hemric passed Allgaier for second while Busch moved in on the bumper of the No. 7 Chevrolet, eventually taking over third-place.
Bell continued to pull away from Hemric with 10 laps remaining and extended his lead to .848-seconds for his third-career win in the Xfinity Series.
“To be able to come from the back here at Kentucky, it just really shows how good of car we have,” Bell added. “This Rheem Camry was extremely good on the long run. Even on the short run too, I could fire off and have really good restarts, so I’m just thankful that everyone stayed behind me and everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing believes in me, so it’s a dream come true to be racing in the Xfinity Series, let alone standing in Victory Lane one more time.”
Sadler, who finished 12th, leads the NXS standings on a tie-breaker over Hemric.