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.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Kevin Harvick still No. 1 after quiet Vegas

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Kevin Harvick didn’t have a flashy night Sunday in Las Vegas, but it didn’t keep him from retaining the No. 1 spot in this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings.

After winning the Bristol night race, Harvick finished in the top 10 in the first two stages in Vegas before placing 10th at race’s end.

Kurt Busch’s win at his home track vaulted him into the top 10 as 12 drivers received votes.

More: Playoff standings after Las Vegas

Here is this week’s NASCAR Power Rankings:

1. Kevin Harvick (Last week No. 1): In the last eight races he’s won three times and finished outside the top 10 only twice.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week No. 5): Placed fourth for his 11th top-five finish in the last 14 races.

3. Alex Bowman (Last week unranked): Finished fifth for his second top five and fifth top-10 finish in the last six races.

4. Denny Hamlin (Last week unranked): Left Vegas with a third-place finish to snap a three-race streak of finishing outside the top 10.

5. Kurt Busch (Last week unranked): Snapped a 46-race winless streak with his victory and advanced to the Round of 8.

6. Kyle Busch (Last week No. 3): Finished sixth after a “dismal” night. He has four consecutive top 10s.

7. Brad Keselowski (Last week No. 5): Finished 13th to give him two finishes outside the top 10 since he won at Richmond.

8. Chase Briscoe (Last week unranked): Opened the Xfinity playoffs with his second consecutive win.

8. Chase Elliott (Last week No. 2): Led 73 laps, but had to settle for a 22nd-place finish in Vegas.

8. Joey Logano (Last week No. 3): Finished 14th for his second straight finish outside the top 10.

Also receiving votes: Erik Jones and Chris Buescher.

NASCAR announces changes to Kansas playoff weekend

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Citing “programming changes,” NASCAR announced shifts in the race dates and start times for its visit next month to Kansas Speedway.

The Xfinity, ARCA and Truck Series races have been shifted, while the Cup race remains at 2:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 18.

The biggest move is the Truck Series race shifting from Friday night to Saturday afternoon.

Here are the changes.

Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30 p.m. ETARCA Menards Series on FS1 or FS2; network TBD at a later date (previously at 10 p.m. ET)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 4 p.m. ETTruck Series on FOX (previously Friday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1)

Saturday, Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET Xfinity on NBCSN (previously 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

 

Xfinity Series playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Chase Briscoe opened the Xfinity Series playoffs by earning his second consecutive win.

His victory Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway gives him 57 playoff points and an automatic spot in the Round of 8.

Harrison Burton holds the final transfer spot. He has a two-point advantage over Ross Chastain.

Behind Chastain below the cutline are Michael Annett (-10 points), Riley Herbst (-14) and Brandon Brown (-20).

Below is the full Xfinity Series playoff standings going into Saturday’s race at Talladega (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance. Drivers in yellow are in the remaining playoff spots.

Xfinity Series playoff standings

Cup playoff standings after Las Vegas

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Kurt Busch flipped the script on the Cup playoff standings with his win Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He entered the Round of 12 as the last driver in the playoff standings, but is the first driver to clinch a spot in the Round of 8.

Replacing Busch in the bottom spot of the playoff standings is Austin Dillon. He is 32 points behind Alex Bowman, who holds the final cutoff spot.

Behind Bowman is Kyle Busch (-9 points), Clint Bowyer (-20), Aric Almirola (-27) and Dillon.

“Obviously, the 1 car (Kurt Busch) was not a car that we needed to win a race,” Clint Bowyer said after Sunday’s race. “It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. (Kurt Busch) winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out.”

Here is the full playoff standings entering Sunday’s playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Drivers in red are below the cutline to advance to the Round of 8. Drivers in yellow hold the remaining available playoff spots.

Cup playoff standings