Truex Jr. ral­lies to win Chase opener

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Mike Cranston

JOLIET, ILL. >> Martin Truex Jr. went from a com­pletely un­rav­eled tire that left him a lap down to the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup championship lead for the first time in his ca­reer.

He can thank a late cau­tion in what has been an emo­tional year for the small-team driver.

Truex shot to the front after a late re-start and pulled away to give Fur­ni­ture Row Rac­ing a NASCAR Sprint Cup play­of­fopen­ing vic­tory Sun­day at Chicagoland Speed­way.

“I’ve had a lot of prac­tice at it,” Truex said about the on­track ob­sta­cles. “I think my ap­proach re­ally changed two years ago when (girl­friend) Sherry got di­ag­nosed with cancer. My ap­proach to all those things changed and made me a bet­ter driver.”

NASCAR an­nounced after the race that Truex’s No. 78 Toy­ota failed the laser in­spec­tion, but the in­frac­tion was not at the level of negat­ing the vic­tory for Chase qual­i­fi­ca­tion pur­poses. Truex is ex­pected to re­ceive a point penalty this week.

Rookie Chase El­liott ap­peared on his way to an easy win un­til Michael McDow­ell blew a tire and spun out to bring a cau­tion with five laps left.

El­liott and Truex came in to pit for tires, with some nonChase driv­ers Ryan Blaney and Kasey Kahne and Chase con­tender Carl Ed­wards stay­ing on the track.

Truex restarted fourth and

El­liott fifth, and Truex quickly got to the front and held off Joey Logano on the fi­nal lap for his third vic­tory of the season. Truex is guar­an­teed to move on when the Chase field is cut from 16 to 12 in two weeks.

Truex, whose team gets tech­ni­cal sup­port from Joe Gibbs Rac­ing, made the last four in the 2015 Chase. His 2016 season started with near miss at the Day­tona 500 and a Coca-Cola 600 win, while Sherry Pollex has bat­tled ovar­ian cancer. She’s now in re­mis­sion.

“You have to un­der­stand, this isn’t the end of the world.” Truex said of rac­ing set­backs. “We can over­come it. That’s what we did to­day.”

El­liott, a rookie, fin­ished third, fol­lowed by Blaney and Chase driver Brad Ke­selowski, who sits sec­ond in points.

“It’s not yours un­til it’s over,” the 20-year-old El­liott said. “That’s part of life, man. You’re not dumb. We’ve all watched this stuff long enough to know these races don’t go green that long.”

Truex led early in the race only to have his tire come com­pletely un­rav­eled. It led to an un­sched­uled stop that left him a lap down in the 400-mile race.

“The hard com­pound came off it,” Cole Pearn, Truex’s crew chief, said. “I guess (Goodyear) saw a cou­ple other tires and came down and told us a cer­tain se­quence num­ber had an is­sue.”

Truex had no other tire is­sues on the 1.5-mile oval and out­raced Kevin Har­vick, who also got into early trouble, to be in po­si­tion for the free pass to the lead lap on the next cau­tion.

Jim­mie John­son dom­i­nated the mid­dle of the race, lead­ing 118 laps, un­til El­liott got by him on lap 176 of 267.

John­son was run­ning sec­ond when he was caught speed­ing on pit road dur­ing the last green-flag stop, yelling “no way!” on his ra­dio when told he had to serve a pass-through penalty. John­son fin­ished 12th, but his car also failed laser in­spec­tion and he could plum­met in the points stand­ings.

El­liott led for 75 laps in what was a clean race with only three cau­tions un­til McDow­ell’s late wreck changed the dy­namic of the race.

“I feel for Chase. I know what he’s go­ing through,” Truex said. “I wasn’t go­ing to catch him.” WHO’S HOT >> Chase driv­ers Truex, Logano, El­liott, Ke­selowski, Denny Ham­lin, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth all fin­ished in the top 10. Jamie McMcMu­ray was 11th, Kurt Busch 13th and Tony Ste­wart 14th. WHO’S NOT >> Kyle Larson, who had the fastest car in Satur­day’s prac­tice, had to change a trans­mis­sion and start from the back. He fin­ished 18th . ... Har­vick ended up 20th amid mul­ti­ple is­sues . ... Rookie Chris Buescher fell a lap down 41 laps in and two laps down be­fore the 100th lap. He fin­ished 28th. PENAL­TIES >> Based on new rules an­nounced last week, John­son could re­ceive a 10-point penalty, which would drop him into a tie for 12th in the Chase stand­ings. Truex could be docked 15 points, but the win locks him into the sec­ond round. DIL­LON SUBS >> Ty Dil­lon fin­ished 27th fill­ing in for Re­gan Smith in the No. 7 Chevro­let. Smith left the track Fri­day and re­turned to North Carolina after his wife went into la­bor. COWABUNGA >> With Nick­elodeon the race spon­sor, the win­ning tro­phy was a gold base with the four Teenage Mu­tant Ninja Tur­tles on top in var­i­ous poses. Truex plans to put it in his shop so visit­ing kids can get a pic­ture with it. UP NEXT >> Two races re­main be­fore the Chase field is cut to 12. Next Sun­day is a 300mile race at New Hamp­shire, where Kenseth won in July.

NAM Y. HUH — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Martin Truex Jr., cel­e­brates with his crew in Vic­tory Lane after win­ning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Se­ries auto race at Chicagoland Speed­way, Sun­day in Joliet, Ill.

NAM Y. HUH — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Kyle Busch (18) and Martin Truex Jr (78) drive dur­ing a NASCAR Sprint Cup Se­ries auto race at Chicagoland Speed­way, Sun­day in Joliet, Ill.

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