Martin Truex Jr. overcame an early penalty to score a huge win in the opening race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs at Chicagoland Speedway.
On the first round of pit stops around lap 40, Truex was caught speeding on pit road and had to serve a pass-through penalty. After serving the penalty under green, Truex was able to remain on the lead lap, but he was far back in the pack.
Then, under caution, Truex had to pit back-to-back laps because his team did not get all the lug nuts on the car on the first pit stop.
Although he stayed on the lead lap the entire day, Truex had to fight his way back from the back to the lead. He eventually took the lead in Stage 3 and drove off to the victory, automatically advancing himself into the next round of the playoffs.
“Yeah, this is awesome man! I’m so excited,” Truex said. “This is what it’s all about. This team is unbelievable. I’m proud of everybody. The speeding penalty, I thought oh no after last year we had to come from the back. The car was amazing and we had to keep digging and fighting and just did what we always do.”
Truex was referring to last year’s race at Chicagoland Speedway where he was served a pit road speeding penalty and was forced to charge his way through the field for that win as well.
The Tales of the Turtles 400 win gives Truex his fifth win of the season.
Following Truex was Chase Elliott in second, Kevin Harvick third, Denny Hamlin fourth and Kyle Larson rounded out the top-5. Brad Keselowski was sixth, Joey Logano seventh, Jimmie Johnson eighth, Matt Kenseth ninth and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top 10.
Truex led 77 laps on the day, while Kyle Busch led the most laps with 85 and won Stage 1, and Elliott won Stage 2. Shortly after the start of stage 2, Busch had to pit with what he suspected was a flat tire. Then under the green flag stop, a crew member went over the wall too soon, resulting in a pass through penalty. Busch finished in 15th, on lap down.
The pit road miscue comes in the first week for Busch with a new pit crew. Busch and teammate Daniel Suarez swapped pit crews earlier this week with the hopes of putting the fastest pit crew with Busch.
Sunday’s race featured just four cautions, two of them for the end of the stages. Playoff driver McMurray spun out going down the backstretch at the start of Stage 3, and rookie Erik Jones caught the wall in Turn 3 and spun out. McMurray rebounded for a top-10, while Jones finished 33rd.
Fellow playoff contender Kurt Busch also had trouble, pitting under green for a vibration. The issue relegated him to a 19th place finish.
The race ended on a long green flag run, and Truex’s margin of victory was over seven seconds.
Next week the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the second race of the playoffs. The race is scheduled to start around 3 p.m. and will be live on NBCSN.
Here are the championship playoff standings after one race:
1 Martin Truex Jr. 1 win
2 Kyle Larson +49 over cutoff
3. Kevin Harvick +41
4 Brad Keselowski +35
5. Kyle Busch +35
6. Chase Elliott +33
7. Denny Hamlin +32
8. Jimmie Johnson +20
9. Matt Kenseth +13
10. Ryan Blaney +8
11. Jamie McMurray +5
12. Austin Dillon +0
13. Kurt Busch -0
14. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. -4
15. Kasey Kahne -5
16. Ryan Newman -7
Zach Horrall is a NASCAR reporter for the Indiana Sports Report and is recognized as an accredited member of the media by NASCAR and has full media access. Follow @ZHorrallBU and the @IndySportsRep on Twitter.
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