Martin Truex Jr. showed the right amount of speed in his No. 19 Toyota when the time mattered the most. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver ended a 10 race winless drought on Sunday night when he won the South Point 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Truex, caught and passed race leader Kevin Harvick with 20 laps remaining in Sunday night’s race en route to his 24th career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory and his second on the 1.5-mile track.
By virtue of his win, Truex now knows that he will race in the Round of 12 with a shot still at this seasons championship.
The win and how he got the win, differed in his approach compared to Harvick’s runner-up.
“We took a gamble and qualified 24th and for a while there, it wasn’t looking too smart with the 4 (Kevin Harvick) out there in front,” Truex said. “But we got the right adjustments at the end, had a great car all day long. It’s a hell of a way to make a championship run. We got some good bonus points and move on to the next round and see what we can do. That was a lot of fun. … (The win) takes some pressure off us and the biggest thing is it gives us more playoff points. The next two weeks we can try to get even more of those and that’s huge. Any playoff points you can get are going to help you get to Homestead.”
For Harvick, he did the exact opposite as Truex this weekend. They elected for qualifying speed which helped him start third. Truex, started 24th but knew that they already had race pace. Harvick and his team went searching for that pace in the race and it nearly paid off.
“We always want to win, but these guys just did a great job,” Harvick said. “We were way off when we got here this weekend and they just kept working. We qualified well, weren’t where we wanted to be when we started the race, got stage points and led there late and gave us an opportunity. I knew the Gibbs cars would be tough and Martin (Truex Jr.) was just so tough in the second half of the run. He had made up that ground and was able to stay close to us. Just a great job by our team. … I think we can do a little better going forward.”
Harvick, heads to Richmond on the heels of three straight top four finishes in his No. 4 Ford and seven top sevens in his last eight. Truex, earned his fifth top six finish in the last eight races.
Brad Keselowski overcame a slow start to the race to bring his No. 2 Ford home third. It was his third straight top three finish in Vegas and ninth consecutive top seven there. He’s also scored a top five in three of his last five races on the season. But, the night didn’t come easy.
The Team Penske driver struggled mightily through the first two stages as he scored zero stage points on Sunday. Then, in the final stage, there Keselowski was back in the top 10. He’d inch further and further up en route to his sixth top 10 finish in the last eight races on the season.
“Bad start tonight but good finish,” said Keselowski. “We weren’t driving very good at the start. Nothing I was doing was working. We were kind of bleeding positions and losing laps. The team worked on it really hard and got us back to a spot where we could almost steal a win – and I thought for a minute that we might be able to. Not the win we were looking for, but a lot of perseverance and proud of that, that we didn’t freak out.”
The Hendrick Motorsports cars were strong behind with all three of their playoff drivers finishing fourth (Chase Elliott), sixth (Alex Bowman) and seventh (William Byron) respectively.
For Elliott, the top five capped a great weekend for his No. 9 Chevrolet team as he was in the top 10 in both practice sessions on single lap and 10 lap averages. He even earned a top 10 starting spot too.
“It was a solid top five,” Elliott said. “I feel like we finally got our car going pretty good the last two or three runs, which was good, and a good time to do it. We just got some damage on the restart and he had to come down to pit road and fix it. We just couldn’t take a chance on cutting a tire. I felt like we were closer today than we have been the past few weeks, so that was nice. Hopefully, we can have cars like that for the next nine weeks. … We finally got it going pretty good there at the end, I felt like.”
For Bowman, the sixth place run was his best finish since his win at Chicagoland Speedway on June 30.
“We just didn’t fire off very good,” Bowman said. “As the race ran, we got our car much better. I think kind of the in between from day to night was the best we were. When it grouped up there at the end, it helped out some of the other cars. But, proud of my guys. I wish we would have gotten some more stage points, but we’ll take sixth. I think we ran about where we should have run. Avoiding some of the mess was definitely a good thing. I’m just proud of our guys and we didn’t have any issues.”
Bowman, said that while a top 10 is great, he was left frustrated that he didn’t score really any stage points on Sunday.
“Just not getting stage points, really,” Bowman said on what he was frustrated with. “That’s frustrating. The racing is tough. You just get blocked, guys changing lanes. It’s just super frustrating, but everybody has to do it. That’s just part of it. Overall, it wasn’t too bad of a day.”
For Byron, he overcame a flat tire to earn his third top eight in the last four races.
“Getting back to seventh was great (after spinning earlier),” said Byron. “It’s really good. We got a chance to get up front, restarted fourth and had a good restart. Felt we had a lot of good starts and restarts. … Overall, not bad and we’ll move on to Richmond and move on from there.”
Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five in his No. 12 Ford for his sixth top 10 result in the last eight races on the season.
Some of the playoff drivers had rough nights though. Kyle Busch looked like he was off to a slow start as he didn’t score any stage points and was even three laps down at one point. He did make all three laps up and was vying for a top five finish before making contact with a lapped car in the closing laps which relegated him to a 19th place result.
Kurt Busch crashed on Lap 187 to finish last (39th) for his seventh finish outside of the top 20 in his last nine Vegas starts.
Erik Jones saw his No. 20 Toyota get stuck in second gear on the restart to get the second stage going and he had to go behind the wall for repairs. He’d finish a disappointing 36th.
Clint Bowyer earned his first pole in 12 years but he had a bad race car for the race itself and struggled to a 25th place finish in his No. 14 Ford.
Everyone else finished in the top 15.