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