Truex wins NASCAR race at Watkins Glen
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- As several cars ran out of fuel in the closing laps, Martin Truex Jr., in conservation mode, managed to save enough gas to get to the checkered flag and win the I Love New York 355 NASCAR Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International on Sunday.
It was Truex's fourth win of the season, the most of any driver in the series.
"It's awesome," Truex said. "It means a lot to be in victory lane here, at this race track. I've been coming here a long time and feel like we've been close and had a few slip away from us, but really excited. Great to see an awesome turnout here, today with the fans and the sellout.
"Such a unique and great part of the country. This weather is amazing. We love coming up here to race. Pretty cool to check this one off the box, as far as road courses. Everybody wants to win at these places, so to get this one is special."
Truex bobbled a couple of times on the final lap of the series' second and final road-course race of the season, allowing Matt Kenseth to gain ground, but second was as close as he could get.
Daniel Suarez finished third and Denny Hamlin was fourth to give Toyota the top four positions. Clint Bowyer rounded out the top five.
Truex led multiple times during the third stage of the race that made up the final 50 laps of the 90-lap race. After taking the lead from Brad Keselowski with 26 laps to go, he returned the lead to Keselowski 13 laps later, opting to go into fuel conservation mode, certain Keselowski would have to make a pit stop for a splash of fuel.
"I'm a little bit lost for words at the moment, just because I've been thinking about this one a long time -- all weekend, all day," Truex said. "Then, at the end, there, just it's so hard there, to let guys pass you for the lead. You've just got to listen to your crew chief, and luckily for me, I've got the best one in the business, and I just do what he says, and it seems to work out. I've just got to thank him (crew chief Cole Pearn)."
Keselowski pitted with four laps remaining and was penalized for driving through too many pit stalls. Ryan Blaney inherited the lead, but he pitted with two laps remaining, handing the lead back over to Truex.
"I stumbled down the back, coming to two to go, so we wouldn't have made it," Blaney said. "It stinks. I wish I would have saved earlier like the 78 (Truex) did. I pushed hard and thought we were better to go on gas than they were. They did a good job saving. I could have done better. If I would have started saving sooner, I think we would have made it; you never know. I am pretty proud of the effort. We got up front at the beginning of the day and stayed there pretty much all day.
"I thought our strategy was right and we had a good race car. Things just didn't work out for us. That is just the way it goes sometimes."
After starting on the pole for the third straight race, Kyle Busch led the entire 20-lap first stage to claim his ninth stage win of the season. But he made two stops during the caution between the first two stages, reporting a possible loose wheel, and restarted the race for stage two in the 32nd position.
Busch was back inside the top 10, in ninth, by the end of the second stage at lap 40. But when the race restarted, he and Keselowski made contact that resulted in a Busch spin, dropping him back to 34th in the running order. After dropping to the back, Busch pitted.
Keselowski's car also sustained damage.
"I was going into the corner, and I had the 47 (A.J. Allmendinger) behind me, and when I got into the corner, the 18 (Busch was) next to me," Keselowski said. "My spotter called it, but we were already in the corner. It was too much for me to avoid. We got into each other, and that hurt everybody."
Keselowski stayed out, though, when the yellow flag waved for Landon Cassill just past lap 50, and he restarted as the race leader.
Busch started in the back but made his way back into the top 20 with 20 laps to go by posting some of the fastest lap times. Busch got back up to fourth before pitting for fuel with five laps to go.
Cassill's caution was the only caution of the race other than the two yellow flags that separated the race into its three scheduled stages.
Chase Elliott began the second stage up front, waiting a few additional laps before making his pit stop. Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray were on a similar strategy, making their first stops under green on lap 28. Any advantage McMurray gained by the strategy was negated by a 45-second pit stop resulting from difficulty getting his new left-front tire on the car.
Elliott gave up the lead to finally make his first trip down pit road on lap 31. Suarez inherited the lead and was able to hold off Truex in the closing laps of the second stage to claim his first stage win.
NOTES: Denny Hamlin won last year's I Love New York 355 at The Glen, but his status for the entirety of Sunday's race was up in the air as he awaited the birth of his second child with longtime girlfriend, Jordan Fish. Regan Smith was on standby in case Hamlin needed a substitute in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. ... NASCAR also had rain tires on standby in case they were needed. ... Hamlin and Clint Bowyer started the race in the back because of unapproved brake work between qualifying and the race. ... Erik Jones was without his regular crew chief Chris Gayle at The Glen, as Gayle began serving his two-race suspension for an issue with the rear-end of the No. 77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota last weekend at Pocono Raceway. ... Kurt Busch also was without his regular crew chief, Tony Gibson, who flew home to North Carolina to be with his ill wife. ... Kyle Busch led 43 laps and won the 82-lap Zippo 200 at The Glen NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Watkins Glen on Saturday. Eight Cup Series drivers competed in the Xfinity race. Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski finished second and third in that race. ... Sunday's race was the first since NASCAR moved its overtime line to the start/finish line at all tracks, but it was the second consecutive race weekend during which the Cup Series qualified and raced on the same day. ... Kevin Harvick won the other road-course race this season at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway.