Truex Jr. whoops the field at Kentucky

Domination: defined as supremacy or preeminence over another. Exercise of mastery or ruling power. Exercise of preponderant, governing or controlling influence (per Merriam-Webster).

“The No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team and Martin Truex Jr.” need to be added to that definition, because they dominated the Quaker State 400 and won their third race of the season after sweeping all three stages at Kentucky Speedway. MTJ whooped ‘em on Saturday.’


IN HIS OWN ZIP CODE

Leading 152 of the 267 laps and running out to a 15-second lead (!!!!) at one point, Truex Jr. was in a different world on Saturday. It seemed like everyone was racing for second.

I think this was probably the best car I’ve ever had in my entire career,” Truex Jr. said in the media center post-race.

Photo: Robert Laberge/Getty Images

“I can never recall saving fuel and pulling away from everybody before, so it was pretty amazing. Just props to my team and everything they’re doing, and everything is going good for us right now, so we’ll just try to keep that momentum rolling.


OLD TIRES, NO PROBLEM

It looked like smooth sailing for Truex Jr. until Kurt Busch’s engine expired with two laps to go, bringing out the second to last caution of the evening. Cole Pearn, the No. 78 crew chief, opted to stay out, while everyone else pitted. Truex Jr. was a sitting duck—or so we thought.

The only car on old tires, he lined up ahead of Kyle Busch (took two left side tires), Erik Jones (took two right side tires) and Kyle Larson (took four tires) for the overtime finish. Truex Jr. got a good launch into turn one, the No. 18 got loose in turn two and the No. 78 was able to hold off a hard-charging Larson for the win before an accident brought out the caution flag.

Photo: Getty Images

“I thought we were dead. I thought we were done,” Truex Jr. told NBCSN on the front stretch after winning his 10th career Cup Series race. “This is completely unbelievable. I’m so excited to win here. It felt like we had a shot last year and it got away from us on fuel mileage and just wanted to win here so, so bad after that. This is sweet redemption.”

Truex Jr.’s bad luck has followed him throughout his career. Whether it be “Spingate” at Richmond in 2013 with Michael Waltrip Racing or the countless times wins were snatched from him in the closing stages, he was thinking that he might be unlucky on Saturday night.

(I was) worried every lap, waiting for a caution,” Truex Jr. went on to say. “Especially at the end. You’re counting (the laps) down – you know 30, the last 30, the last 20, the last 10 and then you get inside of five, and you’re like ‘oh my God, there’s no way there’s not going to be a caution’, and sure enough there was. Fortunately (I was) able to hold them off. This thing was just so stout tonight. A good push from Larson (on the final restart) helped us a bunch.


PLAYOFF POINTS GALORE

With his third win of the season, Truex Jr. now has 28 playoff points this season. Not only is he a lock for the playoffs, but he’s already pretty much a lock for the championship four.

“Well, we knew coming into the season they were going to be important, so I think everybody’s goal coming into this year was to try to get as many as possible,” Truex Jr. said in the media center post-race when asked about his playoff points. “I think for us as a team, if you look at last year and the laps we led and the things we were able to do, we didn’t win as many races as we should have, but we led a lot of laps, and I feel like we would have got a lot of stage points last year if they were available, but they weren’t.  So it kind of played into our wheelhouse a little bit, just kind of played into what we’ve been doing the last couple years.

Photo: Getty Images

If you remember, playoff points carry throughout each round of the postseason. Meaning that however many playoff points the No. 78 ends the regular season with, that’s how many extra points they will carry into every round of the playoffs. For reference: Kevin Harvick has seven playoff points this season. Truex Jr. has 28 thanks to his three race wins (five points apiece) and 13 stage wins (one point apiece). If he wins the regular season points title, that gives him 15 extra playoff points. If he finishes second, he earns 10. No matter how you slice it, Truex Jr. is going to have a cakewalk to Miami due to the playoff points he’s accumulating rapidly.


THE FIELD

Following Truex Jr. across the finish line was Kyle Larson in second place. After starting in dead last, Larson passed the whole field—and then some—en route to his fifth second-place finish of the 2017 season. Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five.

Race-winner Truex Jr.’s teammate at FRR, Erik Jones, came home sixth, with Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney rounding out the top 10. Only nine cars finished on the lead lap. Some other notable finishers included Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 12th, Matt Kenseth in 17th (last-lap crash), Kurt Busch in 30th (blown engine with two laps to go) and Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson in 38th, 39th and 40th, respectively due to accidents.


LARSON, A PASSING MACHINE

Larson’s second-place finish wasn’t where he wanted to end up at the end of the night, but considering the circumstances, he did pretty darn well for himself.

He passed 90 cars under green flag conditions. NINETY. NINE-ZERO. NOVENTA.

51 of those 90 passes were deemed as “quality passes,” meaning he passed a top 15 car under green. He started 40th, was running inside the top five before stage one even ended and looked like he was going to challenge for the lead and the win with relative ease.

But then the No. 42 was caught for speeding on pit road on the first round of pit stops. That sent him back to the rear, but that was no problem for the Elk Grove, Ca. native. He methodically worked his way back inside the top 10, took four tires under caution before the green/white/checkered and wound up coming home in second place… again.

“I don’t know what we could have done to beat [Truex Jr.],” Larson told NBCSN post-race. “He was obviously pretty fast with the lead there. It would have been fun to get to race him because I felt like I had the second-best car today. And it would have been interesting to get a restart with him earlier and get to hang with him that last run there […] I guess I was just a little too fast leaving my stall and got a penalty. So, I’ve got to clean that stuff up. I’m mad at myself that I made that mistake. I don’t really know if it affected the outcome, but you never know.


ROWDY REMAINS HANGRY

Kyle Busch led 112 laps on the evening, but left Kentucky Speedway winless (still), and hangry for more (just like the right side of his car said. Don’t believe me? Look below!)

Photo: Getty Images

Busch declined to comment with NBCSN upon exiting his car post-race. Although it’s no consolation, he did win the XFINITY Series event, the Alsco 300, earlier Saturday afternoon for his 88th victory in that series. But with eight races to go in the regular season, he’s still winless.

And to make things worse, there was another lug nut issue for the No. 18. There was one unsecured lug nut on the Toyota post-race, meaning crew chief Adam Stevens will be fined $10,000. He won’t be suspended for a race, but Kentucky marked the first race back for Stevens after serving his suspension for the tire violation at Dover International Speedway.


THE END FOR BUBBA?

Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. has done a solid job substituting for the injured Aric Almirola in the No. 43 for Richard Petty Motorsports. And at Kentucky Speedway on Saturday night, he earned his best career finish of 11th. However, it might be the last time he races in 2017.

Almirola’s back injury is expected to allow him to return to action next weekend at NHMS, meaning Wallace’s time as a MENCS driver for the time being will end. With the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing team folding a couple weeks back, Bubba is without a ride for the rest of the season. But with silly season heating up, we might have an announcement relatively soon regarding his plans for the 2018 season. For NASCAR’s sake: I hope Bubba gets a ride.


BRAD DOESN’T HOLD BACK

On lap 87, three-time Kentucky winner Brad Keselowski lost control of his No. 2 Ford and spun out into the outside retaining wall. He collected Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer in the wreck, and was done for the day before his night really got started.

Photo: Getty Images

Keselowski’s DNF marks the fourth in his last seven races. The early summer stretch hasn’t been kind to the 2012 champion, and he wasn’t kind to NASCAR and the race cars they work on tirelessly to design that race on the track week in and week out.

“I am probably as much frustrated with myself as I am frustrated with the situation and frustrated with the sport that we can’t design a better car than this that all you can race without having to do everything on the restart,” Keselowski told Ford and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s Claire B. Lang upon exiting the infield media center. “That is part of it I guess. That’s where we are right now […] it is a poorly designed race car and it makes racing on tracks like this very difficult to put on the show we want to put on for our fans.

“Is it time for the sport to design a new car that is worthy of where this sport deserves to be and the show it deserves to put on for its fans,” Keselowski continued to say.

Keselowski saw his comments blowing up on social media, so he issued a personal statement on his flight back home via Twitter, reiterating that his comments were good-hearted.


WHAT’S NEXT

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to New England for the Overton’s 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The NASCAR XFINITY Series will also be in action for the Overton’s 200 on Saturday afternoon, as well as the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. It’ll be a packed weekend of racing at The Magic Mile.