Martin Truex Jr. is racking up the playoff points.
Truex won the first two stages of Saturday night’s race at Kentucky and then sprinted away for the win on a green-white-checker restart after his lead of over 15 seconds was erased because of a late caution.
Truex, who is second to Kyle Larson in the points standings, is set to enter NASCAR’s playoffs with 38 playoff points. And that’s if he doesn’t score any other stage or race wins before the playoffs begin. His two stage wins Saturday night gave him 13 stage wins for the season (13 points), his win was the third of the season (15) and he’d have 10 points for being second in the points standings.
The late caution happened because Kurt Busch’s car blew an engine with a handful of laps to go. Truex had by far the fastest car but was left with a dilemma.
If crew chief Cole Pearn decided to bring Truex to pit road for fresh tires, a bunch of cars behind would have likely stayed on the track. Had Truex stayed out, everyone else would pit.
Everyone else pitted as Truex stayed out. But his super-fast car made up for the fresh tires that the cars behind had. Truex cleared the cars behind him in turns 1 and 2 immediately after the restart and had a comfortable lead on the final lap when a caution came out for an accident involving Matt Kenseth, Daniel Suarez and Austin Dillon.
“I thought we were done,” Truex said when the caution flew with less than three laps to go. “Honestly, we had such a – just such a good race car I think my main concern was just trying to get out front [on the restart].
“If I could get to the lead I thought I’d be okay.”
Clean air was a huge factor in Saturday night’s race because of the fresh pavement at the track. But while it helped Truex build up such an incredible lead, having a great car was a big part of that too.
While the lack of an advantage of fresh tires helped because of the new pavement, the exceptionalism of the car was a great reason he was able to charge into the corner and hold off the rest of the field.
Truex said after the race that his girlfriend Sherry Pollex was unable to be at the track to watch the victory in person. Shortly afterwards, Pollex tweeted a picture of herself and her family from the hospital and revealed she had a procedure for a recurrence of ovarian cancer.
— Sherry Pollex (@SherryPollex) July 9, 2017
Because of his quantity of playoff points — and his speed at 1.5-mile tracks — Truex is the clear favorite to make the final round of NASCAR’s playoffs. Thanks to tweaks NASCAR made to its playoff system before the 2017 season, drivers can carry bonus points earned through the first nine races of the 10-race playoffs.
And while Truex is set to have the most bonus points of anyone in the playoffs, his three wins in 2016 have come on 1.5-mile tracks.
And 1.5-mile tracks make up five of the 10 races in the playoffs. It’s becoming a pretty safe bet that Truex will have a chance at the championship at Homestead in November.
[Related: Brad Keselowski expresses frustration with NASCAR car design after wreck]
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