Bad luck, not bad strategy, dooms Martin Truex Jr.’s chance at Kansas win

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Sitting atop the pit box for Furniture Row Racing, crew chief Cole Pearn allowed himself a pleasant thought.

“Man, maybe we’re going to ease into this one,” Pearn contemplated.

The No. 78 driven by Martin Truex Jr. had taken the pole and the No. 1 pit stall that came with it and was running away with the Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Truex was in the process of racking up the most laps led in the race for the second straight year. Twelve months after leading 95 laps in the spring race at Kansas, Truex would total 172, a team record for Furniture Row Racing.

Then came Lap 212.

That’s when Truex pitted from the lead for what should have been his final stop of the night.

Should have.

The second Truex left the pit box at the end of pit road, his Toyota began shaking.

“‘You got to be kidding me’ was my reaction,” Truex said following the race, once again leaning against his car in defeat rather than standing on it in celebration.

With 55 laps left, Truex tried thinking of a reason his car was misbehaving at the worst possible time.

“Maybe it’s shaking because it’s got tape on it or something stupid,” Truex thought.

It wasn’t tape or a lack of lug nuts. All four tires were on tight.

“A bolt that holds that right-front brake hat, one of the heads broke off for whatever reason,” Pearn said. “(It) holds the brake rotor on basically. The small head of the bolt broke off and got hung in the wheel when it went on.”

That’s what forced Truex back to pit road on Lap 215. When the No. 78 returned to the action, Truex was a lap down.

“You always know there’s the possibility of those things happening, you just hope they’re earlier in the race so you can overcome them,” said Truex. “We certainly had a car fast enough we could have overcome it if it was earlier.”

Two late cautions would allow Truex to return to the lead lap, but he ran out of time, finishing 14th. When Truex emerged from his car on pit road, he was approached by an apologetic Joe Gibbs. Furniture Row Racing is aligned with Gibbs’ organization.

“The pit crew guys train at his place, so he felt responsible,” Truex said. ” (He) just wanted to let me know what it was.”

For once, it was bad luck.

It’s the second race of the year Truex has led the most laps and failed to win. During the Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Truex led 141 laps. Then under a late caution, Pearn called the No. 78 to pit road and had to watch as the rest of the leaders stayed out.

Busch won, Truex finished sixth.

Last year under the Kansas lights, Pearn had Truex pit for fuel during a late caution. In his rear-view mirror, Truex had to watch as the rest of the field stayed on the track.

Jimmie Johnson won, Truex finished ninth.

Truex would lead the most laps – 131 each – in the next two races at Charlotte and Dover, but fail to win. He finally broke through at Pocono Raceway the week after Dover.

The No. 78 hasn’t been back to victory lane since.

“It’s frustrating when you’ve had it happen so many times in your career,” said Truex, who leaves Kansas 10th in points. “I swear, you watch guys win races that don’t have the best car, on fuel mileage and all this stuff and it’s like, damn. Someday I’m going to get on the (right) side of one of them. It’s usually dominate and don’t win.”

But even while on the wrong side of circumstance once again, Truex recognizes he’s in the best place he’s been during his 11 seasons racing full-time in the Sprint Cup Series.

“Without a doubt, that’s why I don’t get down and lose my mind when things like this happen,” Truex said. “We’re going to win races. Whether we win four or one before the Chase, it really doesn’t matter, we won one last year and we made it to the final four.”

And then there’s Pearn, who allowed himself to contemplate the possibility of a well-earned win.

The second-year crew chief has one win with Truex, but sticking the landing a second time is proving difficult. How does he keep his spirits up?

“You’ve got no choice, I think maybe last year, I was mad after this one last year, but now I’ve experienced going through it,” Pearn said. “We’re obviously doing something right, but we’re not doing something else right.”

Former champions battling to stay alive in Cup playoffs

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — Title hopes could end today for more than one series champion.

Former champ Jimmie Johnson holds that final transfer spot to the next round, but he leads former champion Kyle Busch by seven points and former champion Matt Kenseth by eight points.

“This is our first Homestead of this year,’’ Busch said, referring to the season finale that determines the crown. “We’ve got to come through this race. It’s not a must-win, but it is a must-perform.’’

It will be challenging because Busch, Johnson and Kenseth are all strong at this track.

Johnson’s three wins at Kansas are the most among active drivers. Busch has finished in the top five in five consecutive Kansas races. Kenseth has led 269 of the 536 laps (50.2 percent) run in this event the past two years.

That makes Sunday’s elimination race (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) even more intriguing.

Johnson, who is in his first bid to break a tie with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most Cup championships, finds himself in this spot because of a lack of speed. It’s hurt him in qualifying, costing him stage points, and hurt him throughout the race.

“We are a team and a group that thrives on adversity,’’ said Johnson, who noted he was the slowest of the championship cars last year in Miami and still won his record-tying seventh title.

“Whenever we have been backed into a corner we have always stepped up and have delivered. All the members of this No. 48 team love a challenge, and we are not even close to losing that desire and that fight to be out there and compete and race for the win and race for the championship.’’

Mistakes have plagued the team the past two weeks. At Charlotte, Johnson took off before all the lug nuts were secured on the left front tire and had to back up to have that remedied, losing time. Last week, spotter Earl Barban told the team they could begin work on Johnson’s wrecked car before the red flag was withdrawn. NASCAR parked the team for the infraction.

“There are lessons learned in everything,’’ Johnson said. “When I think of the Charlotte pit stop itself and I think of Talladega and the mistake there that Earl made, really all mistakes come from guys trying as hard as they can. 

“I personally have sympathy for that. I mean, the guys are just trying to do the best job they can and everybody makes mistakes. I make plenty of them, and I think Fridays show that on a regular basis. It’s hard for me to jump on somebody over that.  What I ask of myself is to learn from those lessons and try not to repeat them.’’

Kenseth, winless in his last 48 starts, has a Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota but his team has seemed to be the weakest of JGR’s playoff teams throughout the postseason.

“If we don’t run good Sunday, then we don’t deserve to be in the next round anyway,’’ Kenseth said Friday.

Kenseth lamented the performance he and his team had at Kansas in May, finishing 12th.

“You’re only as good as your last race,’’ he said. “Our last one here we ran really, really bad.

Kenseth suggests he might have to knock someone else out of a playoff spot if Kyle Busch runs like he’s capable.

“If I’m Kyle (Busch), I’m feeling pretty good,’’ Kenseth said of his teammate. “He’s crashed two weeks in a row and he’s still in (playoff contention). That’s pretty amazing. Plus he’s been running so good, it’s one of his better places now. So I wouldn’t be very concerned if I was Kyle, I guess, because he’s had the performance.

“Now, (Jimmie Johnson) hasn’t run quite as good as he’s accustomed to running. We haven’t run as good as we’re accustomed to running.”

That Busch is so close after a miserable round (29th at Charlotte and 27th at Talladega) is because he has so many more playoff and stage points than Johnson and Kenseth.

Busch has 41 playoff points. Johnson has 17 and Kenseth five.

Busch’s job is simple he says.

“I look at it as out-finishing (Johnson) and (Blaney) by three, four spots each stage, each round, in order to make up enough points to pass them both,’’ he said. “Whether that’s doable or not, we’ll see. We’ll certainly try. We’ll fight hard, hopefully run up front all day long. We’ve done that this year. We did that here in the spring. We just need to back it up and do it again when it’s crunch time.”

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Justin Allgaier leads Xfinity playoff standings after first race of second round

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Justin Allgaier and two of his JR Motorsports teammates lead the Xfinity playoff standings after the first second round race, the Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway.

Allgaier holds a two-point lead over William Byron and a 11-point lead over Elliott Sadler after finishing fifth in the race.

The top five is completed by Brennan Poole (-28) and Matt Tifft (-33).

Only four of the remaining eight drivers will advance to the championship race.

Click here for the point standings.

Stats, results for Xfinity race at Kansas Speedway

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Christopher Bell claimed his first Xfinity Series win in the Kansas Lottery 300 after passing his teammate, Erik Jones, with four laps left in the race at Kansas Speedway.

Bell only led the final four laps after Jones led 186.

Completing the top five was Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, William Byron and Justin Allgaier.

Click here for results.

 

Christopher Bell wins first career Xfinity Series race at Kansas

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Christopher Bell passed teammate Erik Jones for the lead with four laps left in the Kansas Lottery 300, withstood contact from behind by Jones and claimed his first career Xfinity Series win.

Bell, driving the No. 18 Toyota, won in his fifth career start. It comes in the opening race of the second round of the playoffs.

Bell passed Jones in Turn 3 and drifted up to the wall as they exited Turn 4, where Jones then ran into him.

“I haven’t seen it so I can’t really talk much about it,” Bell told NBC. “But I never want to wreck anyone, especially my teammate. I don’t know. My spotter said clear, I drove it in really deep. I felt like I cleared him (watches replay). I don’t know man, I was clear. It’s my first Xfinity win. I’m sorry that Erik couldn’t finish the race. But I’m just stoked. This thing was awesome.”

Jones dominated the race until the pass by Bell. Jones led 186 of 200 laps and swept the first two stages. He finished 15th, one lap down due to damage from running into the back of Bell.

“It’s not dirt racing, he (wasn’t) clear,” Jones told NBC. “I can’t just stop on the top. I didn’t expect him to drive in on the bottom so far he wouldn’t be able to hold his lane. It’s unfortunate. … I thought we were going to race for the win. Unfortunately there wasn’t much of a race. It was more of a wreck.”

Jones has not finished better than 15th in his last four Xfinity starts.

It is the first win for Joe Gibbs Racing since Denny Hamlin won at Darlington Raceway, a five-race stretch. JGR has won 11 Xfinity races this season.

Bell, 22, is a full-time driver in the Camping World Truck Series. He will race full-time for JGR in the Xfinity Series next year.

The top five was Bell, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, William Byron and Justin Allgaier.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Erik Jones

STAGE 2 WINNER: Erik Jones

MORE: Race results

MORE: Points standings

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Elliott Sadler finished seventh after bouncing back from a spin in Turn 4 on Lap 77 and a pit penalty … Tyler Reddick gave the No. 42 Chevrolet its fourth top-two finish in the last five races … William Byron finished fourth and Matt Tifft placed eighth after both had to start from the rear for unapproved adjustments.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Daniel Hemric finished 18th, a lap down after receiving a penalty for pitting outside his box … Blake Koch finished 23rd, four laps down after getting into the wall with about 35 laps to go … Cole Custer finished 19th, two laps down after pitting for a bad tire with less than five laps to go.

NOTABLE: The 186 laps led by Erik Jones are his most in 75 career Xfinity starts … The cars of Matt Tifft and Ryan Blaney each had one unsecured lug nut after the race. Any penalties will be announced later in the week.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “I just don’t think that’s the way to do it. I get that (Christopher Bell) was clear. He wasn’t clear for the run I was having on the top. I was in the gas. There was no way I could slow up enough to let him. It’s just unfortunate. It took me out of the race. … I just don’t really appreciate that. I don’t think many people will.’’ – Erik Jones

WHAT’S NEXT: O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway at 8:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 4 on NBCSN