Who’s in the headline – Just over a year ago, Martin Truex, Jr. turned the Coca-Cola 600 into his own personal playground. Saturday wasn’t that level of dominant, but it was close. Truex has been very strong on 1.5-mile tracks since the marriage of Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing at the beginning of 2016, and Saturday was another one of them. Truex led 152 of 274 laps to score the victory, including the final laps of each stage. Truex is well ahead in the race for playoff points and is now tied with Jimmie Johnson for the most wins of the season with three.
What happened – The race was dominated by Kyle Busch early, as he led 112 of the first 133 laps. Truex led the other 21. The race had a competition caution at lap 32, thanks to the rain that caused the postponement of the XFINITY Series race to Saturday. The second stage of the race had four different cautions, all for wrecks. There were two on-track passes for the lead. There were four different leaders, but Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr. led briefly due to pit strategies, not from speed. Kurt Busch blew an engine with two laps to go, which resulted in a Green-White-Checkered finish. Truex chose to stay out, while the other eight cars on the lead lap pitted for tires, some two and some four. In the end, Truex was able to get away on the final restart and no one could catch him.
Why you should care – The new point system is tailor-made for Truex. Last season he routinely led many laps early in races only to have something derail his efforts. With the stage races, Truex is racking up playoff points (28)), even when he doesn’t win. Add in the victories and he’s running away from the field. That should mean Truex will go far in the playoffs if he simply rides the coattails of his giant stockpile of playoff points.
What your friends are talking about – Matt Kenseth made a statement on Friday that he does not have a ride for next year. Speculation on him sliding into the No. 88 car immediately flooded social media. The 45-year-old may be a great short term solution at Hendrick, but he seems more like a long term man. If he decides to stick around, it will most likely be in a ride he will keep for a while.
With the news of Kenseth most likely being out of a ride next year, the obvious assumption is that Erik Jones will fill that seat. That turns the light on the No. 77 team at Furniture Row Racing. For now, team owner Barney Visser says nothing concrete is in place and it all comes down to money. If they can’t find the sponsorship dollars to make it happen, the No. 77 team’s history may be a very short one.
Truex’s longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex was not in Victory Lane on Saturday night as she was back at home in the hospital, recovering from surgery for a recurrence of her ovarian cancer. Pollex has said all along that her form of cancer routinely has recurrences and most people don’t survive longer than five years. Truex said that the surgery went well and he’s going to take her home from the hospital when he returns to North Carolina.
— Sherry Pollex (@SherryPollex) July 9, 2017
Brad Keselowski was part of the first caution due to a wreck on lap 88. Afterward, he was very vocal about the car that is raced in the Cup series. He called it “poorly designed” multiple times, while blaming his incident on the air pulling his car around. When asked what he would suggest he did not offer a solution. With the aero dependency that has returned to the sport, something does need to change, because all of the action on the track now is centered on restarts.
Aric Almirola is going to test this week at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Depending on how his body responds, he could very well be back in the car at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this coming weekend. The urge to drive a racecar is certainly strong, but hopefully he isn’t moving too quickly and putting himself in any unnecessary risk. The sport will be around for years to come, no need to rush back.
NASCAR is playing hardball with teams that are struggling to get through inspections. Obviously there does need to be tight adherence to the rule book. That said, there is still too much time spent on inspection on race weekends. Inspect random items each weekend on the cars. Post-qualifying go over the top five with a fine toothed comb. Then, post-race tear down the top five and a random car. Don’t bother dissecting each car when most of them aren’t competing for the win on a given weekend.
Who is mad – Keselowski has had great success at Kentucky, scoring three wins in seven starts. Unfortunately for Keselowski that success comes in even numbered years. In the odd years he’s had two finishes of worse than thirtieth. An early wreck put an end to his night before it really got going and ultimately caused a post race rant about the poorly designed car in the Cup series.
Even worse than Keselowski’s luck was Jimmie Johnson‘s. The seven-time champion with 83 career victories has three tracks where he has failed to win that are still on the Cup schedule: Chicago, Watkins Glen and Kentucky. Johnson had a top 10 in the first stage but was a victim in Keselowski’s wreck, putting an end to his night 87 laps into the event and giving him a last place finish, just the second of his career. Johnson now has to wait another year to try and knock Kentucky off of his list
Who is happy – Saturday may have been Darrell Wallace, Jr.’s last time in the No. 43 filling in for Almirola. When the checkered flag flew Wallace was in 11th place. He finished better in each of the four races he ran in the Richard Petty Motorsports ride. His average finish was 17.8. The sub role for Wallace was an audition for sure, and he proved he can get it done at the Cup level.
Kyle Larson started the race dead last thanks to failing to make it through pre-qualifying inspection. He marched through the field and nearly made it to the front before he had a pit road speeding penalty that sent him to the back again. He plodded through the field again and battled all of the way to second position when the checkered flag flew. On a night when passing was minimal, Larson passed most everyone in the field at least once on Saturday night and if there had been a few more laps he might have made the final pass.
When the checkered flag flew:
Martin Truex Jr. won the 10th race of his career in his 423rd career start.
This is Truex’s first triumph at Kentucky Motor Speedway.
Truex has three victories in 2017.
Ten career wins ties Truex with Donnie Allison and Sterling Marlin for 58th on the All-Time list.
Kyle Larson finished in the runner-up position for the first time in his career at Kentucky.
This is Larson’s 12th career second-place finish. He’s tied with Davey Allison, Neil Bonnett, and Jamie McMurray for 58th on the All-Time list.
Larson has scored eight top-two finishes in 2017.
Chase Elliott crossed the line in third-place for his fourth top-three finish of the season.
It is Elliott’s first podium finish at Kentucky in two attempts.
Elliott has nine career top-three finishes, which ranks him in a tie for 103rd on the All-Time list with ten other drivers.
Eighteen races into the season there have been eleven different winners this year. With eight races left before the playoff cutoff, if there are seven new winners, someone with a win will not make the playoffs. That said, there most likely won’t be 17 unique winners. For now you have Jimmie Johnson and Martin Truex Jr. tied with most wins of the year with three. Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., with two wins, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon, Ryan Blaney, and Kevin Harvick with one each. In the eleven winners Joey Logano is not eligible for the playoffs by virtue of his triumph being considered encumbered at Richmond International Raceway in late April. Logano will have to win again to make the playoffs based on a victory, being seven markers behind Kenseth for the final playoff position.
The remaining six drivers in points and their positions:
3. Kyle Busch
5. Chase Elliott
6. Jamie McMurray
7. Denny Hamlin
10. Clint Bowyer
11. Matt Kenseth
The drivers who have scored playoff points so far this season and their totals:
Martin Truex Jr – 28
Jimmie Johnson – 16
Kyle Larson – 13
Brad Keselowski -13
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 10
Kevin Harvick – 8
Ryan Blaney – 8
Ryan Newman – 5
Kurt Busch – 5
Austin Dillon – 5
Kyle Busch – 4
Chase Elliott – 2
Denny Hamlin – 2
Matt Kenseth – 2
Joey Logano – 1
What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)
Some of them are barn burners and some of them are snoozers. For the second time in just over a year, Truex got to Victory Lane after dominating at a mile-an-a-half track. He won all three stages and really wasn’t pressed. The rest of the racing was rater bland as well. Mix it up, dump it out and you end up with an extremely bad cake. This one was a pretty bad example of a race. It gets one lukewarm Wiedemann’s from the George Wiedemann Brewing Company.
Where do you point your DVR for next week – The series heads Northeast for some lobster and racing. New Hampshire Motor Speedway will be the site of next week’s festivities. The Cup series will race on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN. It can also be streamed on the NBC Sports app or NBCsports.com You can listen to the race on your local PRN affiliate, goprn.com or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.