Truex Jr. dominates in Kentucky
SPARTA, Ky. -- Martin Truex Jr. claimed his third Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win of 2017 on Saturday night in the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway after a dominant performance in the second half of the race.
Truex lapped all but the top eight cars in the running order and had a lead of more than 13 seconds on then-second-place runner Kyle Larson when Kurt Busch blew an engine and brought out the eighth and final caution of the race with three laps remaining of the 267-lap scheduled distance. As a result of the late-race caution, the event went into overtime.
Truex stayed out, but everyone behind him pitted. Kyle Busch started next to him on the front row with four new tires. Kyle Larson pushed Truex out in front of Busch on the final restart and took second for himself after racing from the back to the front twice throughout the race.
Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin also got by Busch to finish third and fourth. Busch wound up fifth, and after the race, his car was missing one of the mandatory 20 lug nuts.
After the race field passed the overtime line, Matt Kenseth, Austin Dillon, Daniel Suarez and others wrecked, and the yellow flag that waved because of the incident ended the race.
Larson then passed Truex, but the race-ending yellow flag had already been displayed.
After Truex and Busch ran first and second through most of the first 160 laps of the race, they wound up seventh and eighth to start the third stage of the race after a four-tire pit strategy. Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney stayed out to restart the third stage on the front row, while several other drivers pitted but took only two tires.
Truex got back up to the lead in a handful of laps, but Busch struggled to get back to the front. After a green-flag cycle of stops that spanned about 20 laps with just under 60 laps to go, Busch came out in second, but he was 11 seconds behind Truex. When Larson took second, he trailed Truex by 13 seconds.
Truex and Kyle Busch dominated the top-two positions in the running order in the first two stages that combined to make up the first 160 laps.
Truex claimed his series-leading 12th and 13th stage wins of the years by winning of the first two 80-lap stages. Kyle Busch was second in each stage after dominating early each time.
Kyle Busch started on the pole and led until Truex got by him on lap 67 en route to the stage-one win. But when the race restarted at the beginning of the second stage, Kyle Busch retook the lead. Truex took another late-stage lead from Kyle Busch, though, around lap 135.
Kyle Larson was third at the end of the first stage after starting in the back as a result of not making a qualifying attempt Friday when his car failed to get through pre-qualifying inspection. By the time the yellow flag waved for a competition caution on lap 30, he was in the top 20.
Larson took four tires during the caution as many cars in front of him took two. Larson continued his march toward the front, and with three laps remaining in the opening stage, he took third from Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Jamie McMurray.
Larson was in the back, again, though, to start stage two after a pit-road speeding penalty between stages. Hamlin also was assessed a speeding penalty after running in or near the top-five throughout the first 80 laps.
Larson drove back toward the front again, and was sixth by the time the yellow flag waved for Joey Gase on lap 136. He backslid several positions, though, on the restart that followed as he battled a possible electrical problem.
While the first stage ran incident free, the early laps of the second stage were marred by two separate multi-car incidents.
A three-car wreck forced the retirement of three-time Kentucky winner Brad Keselowski and three-time 2017 race winner Jimmie Johnson. Clint Bowyer's car also sustained damage, but he was able to continue. A few laps later, Kasey Kahne and Trevor Bayne wrecked. A Bayne spin several laps later resulted in another caution.
The 80-lap distance that made up each of the first two stages was a tall order for a tank of fuel, but with the high number of yellow-flag laps in stage two, especially early in the stage, race frontrunners were able to conserve enough fuel to stay out during each of the second-stage cautions and still get to the end of the stage.
NOTES: Eleven drivers in the Quaker State 400, including seven Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars, also competed in the Alsco 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race Saturday afternoon at Kentucky Speedway. ... Kyle Busch won the Xfinity race at Kentucky, Ryan Blaney was second and Erik Jones third. The top-six finishers in the Xfinity Series race were Cup Series regulars. ... Kyle Busch ran all three NASCAR national series races at Kentucky during the Quaker State 400 race weekend, as he also competed in the Camping World Truck Series race Thursday night. ...Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski combined to win the first six Cup Series races at Kentucky. Keselowski leads the way with three wins, including last year's race. ... Despite a recent repave, the lower portion of the track was repaved again after the Xfinity Series raced at Kentucky Speedway last September. Also, the track utilized a Tire Dragon to add rubber to parts of the racing surface prior to Saturday night's race.