Truex and Kenseth stage in­tense late-race bat­tle – but in vain

Cecil Whig - - RAVENS COVERAGE - By REID SPENCER

NASCAR Wire Ser­vice

— For all ap­pear­ances, Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. were go­ing to settle Sun­day’s Bad Boy Off Road 300 be­tween them.

Truex led a race-high 141-of300 laps at New Hamp­shire Mo­tor Speed­way. Kenseth led 105.

From a restart on Lap 249 un­til the fifth cau­tion of the race on Lap 285, the Toy­ota driv­ers ran 1-2, with Kenseth play­ing de­fense from the lead and Truex try­ing ev­ery trick he knew to get past Kenseth’s No. 20 Camry.

Truex would dive in­side and pull up to Kenseth’s door, only to have Kenseth pinch the No. 78 Toy­ota to­ward the apron and break Truex’s mo­men­tum. Lap af­ter lap, it was a con­stant parry and thrust, as both driv­ers wore out their tires in one of the long­est sus­tained bat­tles for the lead in re­cent mem­ory.

Both driv­ers raced cleanly. Truex al­ready had a vic­tory in his pocket and a guar­an­teed ticket into the Round of 12 in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. And in a real sense, Truex and Kenseth are team­mates, even though they drive for dif­fer­ent or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Fur­ni­ture Row Rac­ing, which fields Truex’s cars, is a cus­tomer and tech­ni­cal part­ner of Joe Gibbs Rac­ing. Both get their en­gines from Toy­ota Rac­ing De-

LOUDON, N.H.

vel­op­ment, and they share in­for­ma­tion be­tween the two or­ga­ni­za­tions.

So it was in­cum­bent on both driv­ers to race hard, which they did, with­out wreck­ing each other.

“I was try­ing to race as hard as I pos­si­bly could with­out get­ting into him, and he wasn’t mak­ing that easy,” Truex said. “But that’s his job as the leader. This race­track is… it’s hard to pass at. It’s re­ally hard to pass on when you have two cars that are very equal. I felt like we were a lit­tle bit bet­ter than him at that point in time but not good enough to just drive by him.

“He was run­ning the line that I needed to run, and I could get in­side him, but he didn’t give me much room un­derneath him to get any grip, and ev­ery time we’d go off in the cor­ner I’d get loose and have to back out from un­derneath him. It was tough rac­ing, hard rac­ing.”

Though Truex cov­ets a vic­tory at the track where his fa­ther raced in both the NASCAR XFIN­ITY and Busch North Se­ries, he wasn’t will­ing to knock Kenseth out of the way for the win.

“I felt like I prob­a­bly could have pushed the is­sue a lit­tle bit more, just didn’t want to risk con­tact, get­ting into him and tak­ing him out of the race,” Truex said. “I know he’s got a lot on the line. We’ve got our win, so that kind of played into that de­ci­sion a lit­tle bit.

“And like you said, he’s a team­mate, too. It would be an awk­ward meet­ing on Tues­day if I knocked him out of the way to win my sec­ond race of the first round.”

The irony was that nei­ther driver won the race. Tak­ing ad­van­tage of a late cau­tion, Kevin Har­vick, who led a to­tal of eight laps, beat Kenseth on a late restart and rel­e­gated the JGR driver to sec­ond place. Truex slipped to sev­enth at the fin­ish.

Joey Logano makes the most of an in­aus­pi­cious start

There’s no sta­tis­ti­cal cat­e­gory for “saves” in NASCAR rac­ing, but if there were, Joey Logano would be the clear leader at New Hamp­shire.

With per­se­ver­ance, Logano and the No. 22 Team Penske out­fit turned a po­ten­tially dis­as­trous day into a re­spectable fin­ish and gave them­selves a mod­icum of breath­ing room in the Chase for NASCAR Sprint Cup stand­ings.

Af­ter a so-so qual­i­fy­ing effort, Logano started 15th in Sun­day’s Bad Boy Off Road 300 and quickly went backwards. On Lap 114 of a long green-flag run to start the race, leader Martin Truex Jr. passed Logano to put the No. 22 Ford a lap down.

Even­tu­ally, Logano took a wave-around for a restart on lap 172 and re­turned to the lead lap, but an­other long cau­tion-free run forced him to pit for fuel on Lap 218. Logano fell to 26th in the run­ning or­der, in dan­ger of fall- ing out of the all-im­por­tant top 12 in the Chase stand­ings.

But the No. 22 team made the most of a se­ries of late cau­tions and got back on the lead lap as the “lucky dog” (high­est-scored lapped car) for a restart with 32 cir­cuits left. Logano was 20th at the time but, with the help of tire strat­egy, drove up to 11th at the fin­ish.

Fifth in the stand­ings, Logano now has a 21-point lead over Jamie McMur­ray and Austin Dil­lon, who are tied for 13th.

“It was a hard fight to say the least with the Shell/Pennzoil Ford,” Logano said af­ter the race. “We took off aw­ful, just like we did in the spring race, too. It’s crazy. We went down a lap and fought all day and then fi­nally got the lucky dog but not with many laps to make it up.

“We made our car bet­ter, but didn’t have enough time to get our­selves back up to where I thought we were speed-wise at the end. I’m proud of the nev­erquit-at­ti­tude. We’re re­silient. We just need to start a lit­tle bit faster. We can’t lose that many spots at the be­gin­ning of the race and ex­pect to bat­tle back ev­ery time.

“We did what we had to do. We al­most got a top 10 out of some­thing that we ran around 20th all day, so at least we got some­thing out of it. We just need to go faster than that.”

On new tires, Kyle Busch charges to third-place fin­ish

Kyle Busch didn’t have a car that could con­tend for the vic­tory on Sun­day at New Hamp­shire – un­til crew chief Adam Stevens con­vinced him to pit for fresh rub­ber with 35 laps left.

Sub­se­quently, Busch restarted 10th on Lap 269 and quickly pow­ered his no. 18 Toy­ota into third place. But for two late cau­tions, the reign­ing NASCAR Sprint Cup Se­ries champion might have had a shot at vic­tory in the sec­ond race of the Chase.

But Busch was happy to take his third-place re­sult into the fi­nal race of the Round of 16 next Sun­day at Dover.

“If it wasn’t for those last cou­ple of cau­tions, I thought maybe we had an op­por­tu­nity to chase those guys (Matt Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr.) down un­der green and pass them for the win,” Busch said. “It wasn’t meant to be. We man­aged our way through those restarts as best we could with restart­ing on the bot­tom, I feel like that’s a lit­tle bit of a dis­ad­van­tage.

“We made the most of it at least at the end and didn’t lose spots, we were able to main­tain our po­si­tion and come out of here with a de­cent day. Ex­cited about the op­por­tu­nity to fin­ish third and hav­ing a good points cush­ion. You can’t take any of that for granted, you have to fo­cus on what’s ahead and the big pic­ture and the task at hand, which is to have an­other good, solid week next week at Dover.”

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