Traffic thwarts strategy, chance to win for Martin Truex Jr.

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LONG POND, Pa. — For all the planning, there was nothing crew chief Cole Pearn could do about the traffic.

Focused on a win — Pearn pitted Martin Truex Jr. before the end of Stage 2 even though Truex was leading — Pearn thought he had the right strategy Sunday at Pocono Raceway.

Instead, Truex finished third to winner Kyle Busch and runner-up Kevin Harvick.

When Truex exited pit road after making his final stop on Lap 126, he returned to the track behind Denny Hamlin, who had pitted a lap earlier. Both ran into heavy traffic.

“We were in a good spot there,’’ Truex said. “We proceeded to catch lapped traffic in every single wrong place possible. That ultimately cost us second.’’

Truex got bottled in traffic a few laps later. That allowed Harvick to pass. 

Busch pitted from the lead on Lap 135. Crew chief Adam Stevens said he kept Busch on track longer to ensure that traffic wouldn’t be an issue when Busch exited pit road. That allowed Busch to catch the leaders.

“I think the key for him was staying out there and then having clean air on old tires,’’ Hamlin said of Busch. “He was running good times, 52.5s or so. We come out on new tires where we should be running 51-somethings, but we’re running 53s in the pack. We didn’t get any benefit from our new tires, so when he comes back out, and has the new tires and clean air, you see what happened there, he was able to maneuver pretty easily.’’

Said Truex: When (Busch) got to us, we were all half used up. He still had really good tires because he was in clean air the whole time.

Pearn’s strategy was partially set when he pitted Truex on Lap 97 — three laps before the end of Stage 2.

“Five (playoff) points is a lot better than one bonus point,’’ Pearn said for the decision.

Pearn said it also helped that Kyle Larson, who is second in the points to Truex, had problems earlier in the race and was due for a poor finish (33rd). Knowing that Larson wasn’t going to gain any points made it easier for Pearn to make the call and give up the one playoff point and 10 stage points for winning that stage. Truex has an 85-point lead on Larson in the season standings with five races left until the playoffs begin.

That set Pearn for the next stop. Then Hamlin pitted.

“Our original plan was to split the run like (Busch) did,’’ Pearn said. “We were ready for whatever. We were going to let everybody behind us dictate what we did. I thought (Busch) was going to come too (with Hamlin). It was just a scenario you didn’t want to be way off strategy to everybody. Didn’t quite anticipate hitting the lapped traffic as bad as we did. And we hit them like every corner.’’

While traffic didn’t go Truex’s way, pit road wasn’t an issue. Truex raced with new front tire changers. The team gets its pit crew from Joe Gibbs Racing, which suspended Truex’s tire changers for an incident on pit road with Stevens last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Pearn said he was pleased with the how new front tire changer John Royer and new rear tire changer Kip Wolfmier performed.

“They did good,’’ Pearn said. “The first (stop), they hung a lug (nut) but then after that they settled in. For coming together as a group you couldn’t have asked for them to have done any better. I’m proud of them.’’

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Austin Dillon, Jeffrey Earnhardt in first wreck of Bristol night race

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The first big wreck of Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race occurred on Lap 232 of the scheduled 500-lap event.

It appeared Austin Dillon may have cut a tire and turned to his right, directly into the car of Jeffrey Earnhardt, sending both cars into the outside SAFER barrier and both sustaining heavy damage.

“We were running really good and all of a sudden the left-rear went flat,” Dillon said. “I don’t know what happened, if we had contact on that restart or our trackbar broke. My car chief said the letters on the Goodyear were rubbed off and about two laps later we broke.

“Our battery was going dead too, so it probably wasn’t going to be much longer we were going to be out of the race either way, but just a bummer. I really love this track and was having a blast tonight.  It sucks it had to end this way.”

Both cars were taken to the infield, with their nights likely over. That’s Bristol, baby.

Matt Kenseth wins Stage 2 at Bristol

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Matt Kenseth took the lead with about 10 laps left in Stage 2 when leader Kyle Busch pitted under caution. Kenseth went on to win the stage Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The second stage ended at Lap 250 of the 500-lap race.

It is Kenseth’s third stage win of the year. He entered the race holding the final playoff spot.

Jimmie Johnson finished second. Kevin Harvick placed third, Ryan Newman was fourth and pole-sitter Erik Jones finished the stage fifth. Jones was followed by Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Busch, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer.

Busch controlled most of Stage 2 and seemed set to win it until crew chief Adam Stevens elected to pit for tires to help set the team up for the rest of the race.

Busch fell from first to sixth on a pit stop after winning Stage 1 because of a problem with the left rear tire. He worked his way back to the lead on Lap 167, passing Jones for the top spot.

Jones took the lead back on Lap 179 as they raced in traffic around Brad Keselowski, who lost four laps because of a cut left front tire from contact in the opening laps.

Busch regained the lead on Lap 199. He maintained the advantage on pit road shortly after that when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hit the wall and brought out the caution.

Martin Truex Jr. had a loose right rear wheel and pitted as the field took the green on the restart. He had to pit shortly after that when he was penalized for an outside tire violation. After serving the penalty, Truex was two laps behind the leaders.

AJ Allmendinger had to pit under green because he had a tire rub after contact.

Jeffrey Earnhardt and Austin Dillon crashed on Lap 232. Dillon spun up the track and Jeffrey Earnhardt had nowhere to go and slammed into Dillon’s car. Kasey Kahne hit the wall and Joey Gase‘s car as he tried to slow.


Kyle Busch passes Kyle Larson on final lap to win Stage 1 at Bristol

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Kyle Busch passed Kyle Larson on the final lap to win Stage 1 on Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Busch and Larson dueled the final 11 laps of the stage. They made contact while racing in traffic while racing to Lap 125 of the scheduled 500-lap event.

Busch seeks to win the Camping World Truck, Xfinity and Cup races this week at Bristol for the second time in his career. He won all three races in 2010.

After Busch, who started 18th, was pole-sitter Erik Jones. Larson finished third. Chase Elliott was fourth. Matt Kenseth placed fifth. Kenseth was followed by Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson.

The stage win is Busch’s 10th of the season. Only Truex (15 stage wins) has more this season.

A couple of drivers had problems early in the race.

Brad Keselowski suffered a cut left front tire on Lap 5 and lost four laps by the time he pitted and got new tires. He was 38th at the end of the stage.

Aric Almirola brought out the caution on Lap 61 when he hit the wall. He was 33rd at the end of the stage.

List of driver introduction songs for the Bristol night race

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Here’s all the songs NASCAR Cup drivers selected for their introduction prior to the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Erik Jones – “All I Do Is Win” by DJ Khaled

Kyle Larson – “Dirt Track Thing” by Kenny Montgomery

Kasey Kahne – “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone” by Brooks & Dunn (picked by Dale Earnhardt Jr.)

Chase Elliott – “Chevy Don’t Let Me Down” by Jeff Bates

Matt Kenseth – “Halo on Fire” by Metallica

Martin Truex Jr. – “That’s How We Do Around Here” by Florida Georgia Line

Denny Hamlin – “Jumpman”  by Drake

Joey Logano – “Energy” by Drake

Clint Bowyer – “How Country Feels” by Randy Houser

Ryan Blaney – “Life Ain’t Fair & the World is Mean” by Sturgill Simpson

Jamie McMurray – “Believer” by Imagine Dragons

Daniel Suarez “El Mariachi Loco”

Ryan Newman – “Hutin’, Fishin’ & Lovin’ Everyday” by Luke Bryan

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – “Chattahoochee” – By Alan Jackson

Chris Buescher – “E” by Matt Mason

Austin Dillon – “Ain’t No Mercy” by Rick Ross

Brad Keselowski – “Right Now” by Van Halen

Kyle Busch – “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons

David Ragan – “I’m from the Country” by Tracey Byrd

Trevor Bayne – “Sideways” by KB Featuring Lecrae

Jimmie Johnson – “What’s My Name?” (clean version) by Snoop Dogg

Ty Dillon – “Rise Up” by Petey Pablo

AJ Allmendinger – “Paper Cut” by Linkin Park

Danica Patrick – “Regulate” by Warren G

Kurt Busch – “Sweet Emotion” by Aerosmith

Michael McDowell – “Dream Team (I Had a Dream)” by Thi’sl

Paul Menard – “512” by Lamb of God

Aric Almirola – “Green Light” by Pitbull

Kevin Harvick – “Happy” by Pharrell

J.J. Yeley – “I Got You Babe” by Sonny & Cher

DALE EARNHARDT JR. – “Stuntin’ Like My Daddy (Rock Remix) by Birdman and Lil Wayne (Picked by Kasey Kahne)

Cole Whitt – “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot

Landon Cassill – “Silver Bullet” by Hawthorne Heights

Matt DiBenedetto – “Gon Give It To Ya” by DMX

Corey LaJoie – “Lights Come On” by Jason Aldean

BJ McLeod – “Kickstart My Heart” by Mötley Crüe

Gray Gaulding – “Wanted Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi

JEFFERY EARNHARDT – “Good Life” by Tyler Hatley & The Little Mountain Band

Reed Sorenson – “Over and Under It” by Five Finger Death Punch

Joey Gase – “I Gotta Feeling” by Black Eyed Peas

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