Kyle Larson

After Chicago, Larson, Harvick lead winless drivers in first round

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For the second year in a row, Martin Truex Jr. won the playoff-opening race at Chicagoland Speedway to advance to the second round of NASCAR Cup Series postseason.

With his win, Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick are the top-two drivers among the 15 still competing for the remaining 11 spots in the second round.

There are five drivers primarily in danger of being among the four eliminated following the next two races at New Hampshire and Dover.

Austin Dillon and Kurt Busch are tied with 2,026 points, though Dillon is listed as 12th and Busch in 13th on the grid.

Following them are Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who is four points back from Busch/Dillon, Kasey Kahne (-5) and Ryan Newman (-7).

Below is the full playoff grid following the first race of the first round.

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What drivers said after Chicagoland Cup playoff opener

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Martin Truex Jr. said Sunday’s Tales of the Turtles 400 win to open the NASCAR Cup playoffs was not a statement.

Oh, but it was: By taking the checkered flag, Truex has an automatic berth in the Round of 12 that starts on Oct. 1 in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Here’s what Truex and other drivers had to say:

Martin Truex Jr. – Winner: “I don’t care much about statements, I’m just having fun. I’m proud of our pit crew for doing what they did and everyone on this team. It’s important to come here and not let the pressure get to you and I think we did a good job of that. Every time you go to victory lane, it’s special. There’s just so many people to thank. I’m kind of speechless. … It’s a dream come true and we’re having the time of our lives.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 2nd: “Just a huge step in the right direction. Days like this are the days we are going to have to have. There is no way around that. I thought we had a solid day overall.  Our car drove good, it had pace, our pit stops were good. I didn’t have anything for Martin (Truex, Jr.). I thought we made the most of our day without some luck I wasn’t going to get around him unless we had a late-race restart or something. I had a solid day and frankly, it is a lot better than we have been doing and we’ve got to have days like this to keep moving forward.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 3rd: “Our focus was to make sure that we didn’t make any mistakes today and everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing worked hard to work on that gap between those cars, but we’ve known about that gap and feel like we’ve closed that up and we knew that not making mistakes was gonna go a long way. We saw the 78 made mistakes today, but they had a fast enough car to recover from that. The 18 didn’t recover from his mistakes. We just had to execute and take what they’ll give you and not finish any worse than that.  I think we did that today. I felt like the 24 and the 78 were a little better than us and we finished right where we should have.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 4th: “It was about a fourth-place car – the 18 (Kyle Busch) was very strong at the beginning. We just hung around the top five or sixth at worst and third at best. Finished about right where we should have.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 5th: “I thought we were about a fifth or sixth-place car all day. I didn’t start the race off very good. We were really tight, but worked on it and got it better at times. It was just really hard to pass for us. I know the No. 78 (Martin Truex, Jr.) was really good and he was able to cruise to the front no problem, but we seemed to and it looked like everybody really struggled in traffic except for a couple of guys. But, a solid day, got stage points and then a top five finish. That will be good going into Loudon.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 6th: “Yeah, we can be happy with sixth. We scored a bunch of stage points and had a solid day up front. One more of these races either Loudon or Dover and we should be good to advance to the next round. I think we can pull that off. We are still looking for a little speed but execution today was really, really strong. Great day on pit road, great restarts. All that stuff was what you look for, we just need to marry that up with some speed and we can win any of these races.”

Joey Logano – Finished 7th: “We executed well. We ran in the top 10 the whole race and had no issues, nothing crazy, just not fast enough to compete for the win. We made gains the last few weeks to get closer but we have just caught up to our teammates. That is where we are at now, the same as our teammates but not good enough to go up there and win. I thought I would run seventh today and I ran seventh. We just have to go faster, that is all.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 8th: “The cars are all so equal at least the guys from third or fourth on back we are all so equal.  If you could get by somebody on a restart that was really about it, but for me, my car just really wanted to run the bottom of the race track. The higher I would go the looser it would get.  I knew there was a lot of real estate up there to try to take advantage of I just couldn’t make it work and had to chase the bottom all day long.”

Matt Kenseth (comment from crew chief Jason Ratcliff) — Finished 9th: “Honestly, I’m really disappointed. I thought that we would be way more competitive. At the start of the race, you know having our qualifiers (tires) on, I thought we were making ground. We kind of settled in and I thought OK, we’ll just keep working on it and making progress. It just didn’t seem like we could make any gains for some reason. We could change the car, but we kept getting stuck somewhere between seventh and ninth. It was good to get out of here with a top 10 and we’ll go to Loudon.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished 10th: “There were a lot of issues for people in the playoffs it looked like. So, 10th place isn’t bad. I think we finished 10th in one of the stages as well. I don’t know what happened on the backstretch. I think I just didn’t give the No. 31 (Ryan Newman) enough room and it got me turned around. We were lucky the caution kind of fell right and then we had a pretty fast car as well. We were faster probably at the beginning than we were at the end, but overall it was a good way to start the first race.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 11th: “We started off not great, got into it with a lapped car. That put us behind and got us a lap down. We spent a long time trying to get a lap back and finally did and were able to go racing. We went the wrong way on our last adjustment and that hurt us unfortunately. We can’t hang our heads about that. A lot of other cars had problems today. It stinks we didn’t get any stage points, but maybe next week.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 13th: “We kind of went back and forth all day between loose and tight. I think we were on the splitter there for a while as well. We kept working on it but never really got it to where we needed it to be to race with the leaders.”

Paul Menard — Finished 14th: “This team never gave up all day, and we have a solid result to show for it. The Moen/Menards Chevrolet had speed all day, we just fell a lap down early because of our track position. We took the wave around and got on a different pit sequence than most of the field, and it worked out in our favor. We got the free pass a couple of times and were able to end the day 14th. It was a great strategy and a solid effort all around for this No. 27 team.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 15th: “We had such a fast Skittles Sweet Heat Camry. It’s just disappointing that we had trouble on pit road like that. We just never had the opportunity with how the cautions fell to get back on the lead lap. We’ll get back to the shop and talk about it, and really all we can do is move on and put it behind us.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 16th: “It’s just frustrating. I put ourselves in a hole speeding on pit road and just trying to get too much. You talk about not making mistakes, and we made one. We had a really good race car truthfully. It was a top 10 car for sure, maybe top five. We got behind. We were two laps down. We got one back. Racing the No. 18 (Kyle Busch), he’s a hard one to beat for the Lucky Dog. I had him for a long time. But, there were just no cautions today. We needed more cautions. It went green a lot.”

Danica Patrick — Finished 18th: “It was a little tight in the middle and off (in the final stage).”

Trevor Bayne — Finished 22nd: “We just couldn’t get the speed we were looking for on the short run. Our Performance Plus Ford was really fast on the long run and (crew chief) Matt (Puccia) made some really good adjustments. I hate that we made some contact with the wall but my guys kept fighting all afternoon and never gave up. We’ll move on from today and get after it in Loudon.”

Ryan Newman — Finished 23rd: “This Caterpillar Chevy was pretty solid Friday and Saturday, but when the race started today, we were facing an uphill battle and could never really recover.  I’m not sure what happened between our practices and the race. We were extremely loose and in desperate need of grip. We tried just about everything to race back onto the lead lap, but it just didn’t work out for us. This isn’t the way we wanted to kickoff the playoffs. We’re fighters so we are certainly still in this thing.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 24th: “I felt like we had a really good car to start off with. We were good on the long run. The first few adjustments we made were good, but then, the car just got really loose. We battled the loose condition the rest of the day. We got it better at the end but were stuck laps down at that point. The timing worked for us on the last caution, and (crew chief) Drew (Blickensderfer) made a good call to run to the end.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 25th: “I got into the fence early on and then had a commitment line violation which put us two laps down. With so few cautions, we weren’t able to get back on the lead lap. It’s definitely not the race we wanted to kick off the playoffs. We head to Loudon which is usually a decent track for us.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 28th: “This wasn’t the day that we were looking to have in Chicago. We were too far off to start the first stage. I was way too loose and didn’t have any grip on entry and exit. My team made changes to get us handling better, but we had lost too much ground to the leaders by then. We’ve grown a lot as a team this year and the next step is to start these races stronger. We always get to where we need to be later in the race, but we need to be there from the time that we unload on Friday morning. This team grinds like no other, though, and we will take what we can from this weekend and use it to be better at this track next year.”

Martin Truex Jr. leaves postseason opener with 58 playoff points after win

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With his win in the NASCAR Cup playoff opener, Martin Truex Jr. grabbed his fifth win of the season and banked five more playoff points to bring his total to 58.

Two races remain in the first round. Among the 16 playoff contenders, the top five in points are Truex, Kyle Larson (-27), Kevin Harvick (-35), Brad Keselowksi (-41) and Kyle Busch (-41).

Only 12 drivers will advance to the second round. The bottom five drivers are Austin Dillon and Kurt Busch (tied at -76), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-80), Ryan Newman (-81) and Kasey Kahne (-83).

Click here for the full points standings.

Results, stats for Cup Series playoff opener at Chicago

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Martin Truex Jr. bounced back from an early speeding penalty and other mistakes to win the NASCAR Cup Series playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway.

The win in the Tales of the Turtles 400 is a career-best fifth this season. It’s Truex’s second win in two years in the race.

Truex led 77 laps on the way to the win.

Making up the top five were Truex, Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson.

Here’s where the 16 playoff contenders finished.

Martin Truex Jr. – winner

Chase Elliott – second

Kevin Harvick – third

Denny Hamlin – fourth

Kyle Larson – fifth

Brad Keselowski – sixth

Jimmie Johnson – eighth

Matt Kenseth – ninth

Jamie McMurray – 10th

Ryan Blaney – 11th

Kyle Busch – 15th, one lap down

Austin Dillon – 16th, one lap down

Kurt Busch – 19th, two laps down

Kasey Kahne – 21st, three laps down

Ryan Newman – 23rd, three laps down

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 25th, four laps down

Click here for the full results.

Martin Truex Jr. roars back from mishaps to win Cup playoff opener

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JOLIET, Illinois – The third time was the charm for Martin Truex Jr.

After losing the lead – and the potential wins – in the final five laps of the last two races (Darlington and Richmond), Truex was not to be denied in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup playoff opener.

Leading 77 of the 267 laps, Truex earned his fifth win of the season, his 12th career Cup victory and the first win of the NASCAR Cup playoffs, capturing Sunday’s Tales of the Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

“This is awesome, man,” Truex said to NBCSN on the front stretch after climbing out of his car. “I’m so excited. This is the playoffs. This is what it’s all about.”

Truex won for the second straight year at the 1.5-mile facility. He’s won four of the seven races on 1.5-mile tracks this year.

“This is the best position I’ve ever been in, you can’t deny it, everything’s going the way we need it to,” Truex said.

It was definitely a statement win by Truex, even though he downplayed it.

“I don’t care much about statements, I’m just having fun,” Truex said. “I’m proud of our pit crew for doing what they did and everyone on this team. It’s important to come here and not let the pressure get to you and I think we did a good job of that.”

After giving his victory lane interview to NBCSN, a smiling Truex was joyously covered in green slime by his pit crew.

“It’s a lot better to watch people get slimed than to get slimed,” Truex joked afterward.

Truex won by 7.179 seconds over runner-up Chase Elliott. Kevin Harvick was third and followed by Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson and Brad Keselowski.

“A much improved day from where we’ve been, which is nice,” Elliott said. “We didn’t have anything from Martin, but to be where we were from where we’ve been is where we deserve to be. It’s nice to see we can do it if all things are good.”

The highest-finishing non-playoff driver was Joey Logano, who was seventh, followed by playoff drivers Jimmie Johnson (8th), Matt Kenseth (9th), Jamie McMurray (10th) and Ryan Blaney (11th).

Early in the race Truex had to make two pit stops to fix loose lug nuts and was also penalized for being too fast on pit road. But he and his team never gave up and mounted a great comeback to take the lead from Kevin Harvick on Lap 190 and — with the exception of one lap (212) that Harvick regained the lead — powered on to victory.

“You have to go out and get it done,” Truex said. “There’s no guarantee the first race of the next round is going to be the same.”

Just as the final stage began, Jamie McMurray spun after making contact with Ryan Newman on Lap 169. The damage was minimal, as McMurray was back in the top-10 with more than 40 laps to go.

Kurt Busch had been consistently running in the top 10 before pitting on Lap 200 due to a loose wheel. He was then penalized for speeding on pit road, dropping him to 21st position, two laps down.

 

STAGE WINNERS: Stage 1, Kyle Busch. Stage 2, Chase Elliott.

MORE: Race results

MORE: Points standings

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: For much of the race, Chase Elliott appeared poised to earn his first NASCAR Cup win. Even though he didn’t, he still had an excellent finish of second. Also, Brad Keselowski, who has been bashing Toyotas the last week, finished sixth.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Playoff drivers that got off to bad starts included Kyle Busch (finished 15th), Austin Dillon (finished 16th), Kurt Busch (19th), Kasey Kahne (21st), Ryan Newman (23rd) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (25th).

NOTABLE: Jimmie Johnson turned 42 Sunday. The defending Cup seven-time Cup champion continues to remain winless in 16 career starts at Chicagoland Speedway, one of only three tracks he has never won a Cup event at (others are Kentucky and Watkins Glen). … Matt Kenseth’s car was found to have one lug nut loose in post-race inspection. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff faces a likely $10,000 when penalties are issued later this week.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Without some luck, we weren’t going to beat the 78 today. We need more days like this.” – Runner-up Chase Elliott.

WHAT’S NEXT: ISM Connect 300, Sunday Sept. 24, 2 p.m. ET (NBCSN), New Hampshire Motor Speedway.