Truex Jr. earns fourth victory of 2017 at Watkins Glen

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Photo: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – He grew up as a little boy helping his father roll tires through the garage at Watkins Glen International. And when the checkered flag flew on Sunday afternoon in the I Love NY 355 at The Glen, he was hoisting a trophy in Victory Lane at the very same track.

Martin Truex Jr. stretched the fuel in his No. 78 Toyota just far enough to earn his fourth victory of the season and first of his career at WGI. The victory at the upstate New York road course means Truex and co. now have 34 playoff points on the season, the most in the series.

 


EVERY LAST DROP

Truex Jr. did something that goes against everything being a race car driver is: give up the lead and let a competitor pass you. And he did it twice in the closing laps.

Crew chief Cole Pearn told Truex Jr. to back his pace down and save fuel. On lap 77 of 90, Brad Keselowski went whizzing by the No. 78 Toyota. He also let Ryan Blaney by. But the No. 2 Ford ultimately was forced to pit for a splash of gas with five laps remaining. That left Blaney in the lead with the Mayetta, N.J. native in tow., waiting for the No. 21 Ford to run out of fuel.

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

And that’s exactly what happened. Blaney ran out with two laps remaining in the 355-mile event, handing the lead back over to Truex Jr. He was able to hold off a hard charging Matt Kenseth in the final two corners and grabbed the checkered flag at the 2.45-mile road course.

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 Jr. told NBCSN after exiting his winning vehicle. “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 believe in him so much, and I just do what he says and it seems to work out.”


THIS ONE MEANS MORE

Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

A win is always special, but this one meant more to the No. 78 team for a couple reasons.

Cole Pearn, crew chief for the No. 78, lost his best friend Jacob Damen at 35 years old after a rapidly spreading bacterial infection.

“It’s been probably the hardest week of my life and it’s not over yet,’’ Pearn said in the media center, holding back tears while talking about the late Damen. “I lost my best friend growing up this week […] it doesn’t seem real. He’s got two little boys that will never know his dad. He was a heart of gold guy. I still haven’t come to terms with it to be honest.”

This win was also special for Truex Jr. because of his longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex. Her battle with ovarian cancer has been well-documented, including a couple weekends ago as she was receiving more treatment. This was her first time back in Victory Lane since.


THE FIELD

Photo: Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

Following Truex Jr. across the start/finish line was Matt Kenseth, who earned his best finish of the season, Daniel Suarez, who won his first career stage, Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer. Rounding out the top 10 was Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, AJ Allmendinger and Erik Jones with Chris Buescher, Michael McDowell, Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Brad Keselowski capping the top 15 when the checkered flag flew on the 90-lap event.

Some other notable finishers included Kevin Harvick in 17th, Danica Patrick in 22nd, Kyle Larson in 23rd, Joey Logano in 24th, Jimmie Johnson in 29th and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 37th (engine).


ALL ABOARD THE TOYOTA TRAIN

The final running order included a lot of Toyota’s in the top 10. The top four were made up of Toyota’s, including one Furniture Row Racing car and three from Joe Gibbs Racing. Add Kyle Busch and Erik Jones in there, and you have all the contending Toyota teams (sorry, BK Racing) in the top 10. I think those early season woes have gone by the wayside for them now.

Brad Keselowski has mentioned a few times in the past few weeks, be it in a post-race TV interview or at media availability at the track, that Toyota is a few tenths ahead of Ford and Chevrolet week after week. And he’s completely correct. Toyota is at the top of the hill.

“We’re definitely off the Toyota’s right now,” Kevin Harvick said on his radio show “Happy Hours” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Tuesday evening. “We as two groups of manufacturers (Ford and Chevrolet) are getting beat a lot in terms of most laps led and fastest laps in a run. It’s not even close […] they just have more grip right now.”


DO I SMELL A RIVALRY?

Here we go again.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Kyle Busch and Keselowski got together in a Cup race at Watkins Glen. Yup, not the first time these two have tangled at The Glen.

This time, Busch made a bold move on the outside of Keselowski entering the inner loop. Keselowski was unaware Busch was there, and when the No. 2 bounced off the rumble strip, it sent himself and Busch spinning off track. No damage was sustained to either car, but it pretty much ruined any chance either had at winning the race.

This came after Busch won the first stage, but was forced to pit due to a loose wheel. He was quickly making his way back up through the field—until his “budding rival” in Keselowski came into the picture. I use those words in quotation marks, because these two have had a rich history in the past, but their “rivalry” has never really escalated. Maybe this will be different.


RACE PACE

Sunday’s race was the shortest ever in NASCAR’s modern era (1972-present). From flag-to-flag, the race lasted two hours, seven minutes and three seconds—three minutes shorter than the XFINITY race the day before. How’s that for keeping short attention spanned millennials interested, huh?

The race was only slowed for a caution three times, two of which were scheduled stage yellows. The only other caution was for debris on lap 53. Lots of green flag racing = shorter races.


WHAT’S NEXT

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will head West to the Irish Hills of Michigan for the Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway. The green flag will fly at 3:18 p.m. ET.

The NASCAR XFINITY Series will be in action from Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for the Mid-Ohio Challenge and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will race at MIS for the LTi Printing 200. Both those events will take place on Saturday afternoon.

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