It appeared to be a toss-up among Martin Truex, Jr., Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson in the first half of Sunday’s Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover International Speedway, as they traded the top spot seven times.
That, however, was until a costly pit road penalty took Johnson out of the lead, handing the lead to Truex, who led 185 laps toward victory at the Monster Mile.
Winning for the fourth time in 2016, the No. 78 driver earned his seventh career Sprint Cup Series victory and third in the last five races.
“We’re not messing around, I guess,” Truex said. “We are here to get it done. The best bunch of guys you can ask for. I’m just ecstatic.”
Beating second-place Kyle Busch by 7.527 seconds, Truex lapped up to seventh-place Johnson in a race that went caution-free in the last 208 laps.
“This is just unbelievable,” he said. “Especially here, I love this track. Its been since ’07 since I’ve won here. I have to pinch myself.”
Completing the top 5, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth each jumped their teams into the Round of 12 starting next week at Charlotte.
“If you get too worried about where you have to finish, sometimes you can run there,” Elliott said. “We just had a solid day and that’s what we needed to do.”
Unfortunately for some, championship hopes came to a monster end on Sunday as tires and mechanical failures bit hard.
It started with Kyle Larson, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver who suffered a lose of power early before getting busted with a pit road penalty. Hitting the wall on lap 181, Larson missed advancement by 12 points.
“If we didn’t have too many men over the wall, we probably would’ve been alright because I was only one lap down,” Larson said. “Our Target Chevy has been good every week. We still have a shot at finishing fifth in points.”
A similar tale can be told for teammate Jamie McMurray, who suffered a spectacular engine failure on lap 192, ending his day – and his championship – in the 40th position.
“It stinks that it’s over this way,” McMurray said. “It’s unfortunate both the [Nos.] 42 and 1 had problem today. I’m proud of my team and my guys.”
Tony Stewart and Chris Buescher also failed to advance following their finishes of 13th and 23rd, respectively.
“We have our heads held high,” Buescher said. “It was awesome to be a part of the Chase. That being said, we did want to move forward, we just didn’t get the opportunity to play out the way we needed it to.”
Austin Dillon made business tough for the three-time champion of Stewart, as the Richard Childress Racing driver drove to an eight-place finish, advancing in the process.
Joey Logano, Johnson and Denny Hamlin came home with top-10 finishes, good enough to ease their way into the Round of 12.
Jeff Gordon earned his first top 10 of 2016 in 10th after leading seven laps.
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