In the era of stage race at Kentucky Speedway, Martin Truex Jr. is undefeated.
Just as he did one year ago, Truex dominated Saturday night in sweeping the first two stages on his way to winning the race. Truex led a race-high 174 of 267 laps, taking the lead for the final time with 53 laps to go. The victory is the fourth of the season for Truex and gave him maximum points towards the playoffs.
“That’s what we try to do every single week, but shows you just how hard it is,” said Truex. “We made it look easy last year but it certainly wasn’t. Just hat’s off to my guys for sticking with me all year — we’ve really been working hard on these race cars to try to figure it out. We’ve had some great fans and a lot of partners that have made it happen.”
Truex passed Kurt Busch for the lead. Although Truex, who had started from the pole, had been the dominant car all night, Busch took the lead off a two-tire pit stop following the final caution on Lap 207 and cleared Truex going into Turn 1 on the restart.
Following Truex across the finish line was Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. Kurt Busch faded to sixth after leading three different times for 45 laps.
Completing the top 10 were Erik Jones, Aric Almirola, Kyle Larson, and Joey Logano.
Taking the outside lane for the start, Truex was in command from the drop of the green flag as contenders behind him fought various issues.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made two unscheduled pit stops early in the stage because of a left-rear tire rub. After the team pulled the fender out on the first stop, Stenhouse complained the car was breaking free on entry and could be seen fighting the No. 17 as it slid up the track. Stenhouse reported things were fine after the second stop and went three laps down. Stenhouse would finish 26th.
Denny Hamlin also had to make an unscheduled stop because he said the brake pedal was going to the floor although he had not been using the brakes excessively. Crew chief Mike Wheeler told Hamlin the right front tire was “very hot,” but there did not appear to be any brake fluid or issues.
Another JGR car, Jones, fell from second to deep inside the top 10 early with complaints about the car’s handling. Late it the stage Jones would also express concern about his brakes.
Truex would hold down the top spot until green flag pit stops when the likes of Kurt Busch, Logano, Alex Bowman and others went longer on the fuel cycle and moved to the top of the leaderboard.
Keselowski was running inside the top three when he made his green-flag pit stop before being nabbed for a speeding penalty. Keselowski would be one lap off the pace when the pit stops cycled through – which again put Truex in the lead.
Truex won the stage, his fourth of the season.
Logano started the stage as the leader having stayed out under the caution. Kurt Busch took two tires and won the race off pit road over Truex, lining them up second and third. Busch quickly overtook Logano on the restart before being caught by Truex for the lead on Lap 98.
Bowman brought the first natural caution out when he blew a right-front tire on Lap 109. Going into Turn 3, sparks flew from underneath the No. 88 Chevrolet when the tire went down sending Bowman into the wall and ending his night.
Truex held serve on the subsequent pit stops as the top nine drivers took two tires. He then again drove off on the restart as Blaney and Kyle Busch fought for multiple laps for the second position.
Going unchallenged off the restart, Truex drove to his fifth stage win of the season.
Keselowski took two tires at the stage break to beat Truex and Kyle Busch off pit road. On the ensuing restart, Keselowski was able to drive away as Truex and Larson swapped second place back and forth. On Lap 201, Truex was back out front.
The fourth and final caution flew on Lap 207 when JJ Yeley blew an engine and came to a stop on the track in Turn 4. This set up another round of pit stops where Kurt Busch again was first off pit road with two tires only to eventually lose the top spot to Truex.
There were four caution flags for 22 laps and 14 lead changes among seven drivers.