Truex relishes the role of favorite in championship
AVONDALE, ARIZ. — Kevin Harvick wasted zero time in leveling the first volley in NASCAR’s championship race.
In Harvick’s opinion, he’s playing with house money when he races Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski next Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the title. It’s Truex, Harvick believes, who faces all the pressure.
“Martin has won a lot of races this year,” Harvick said. “Those guys have dominated the year, and I feel like if they don’t win at this point, they would probably feel like they’ve had a letdown.
“It’s a lot of fun coming from behind and playing catch-up and kind of playing that underdog role is much easier than being expected to go down there and win. We expect to win.”
When told that Harvick has picked Truex as the favorite, Truex cut off the question before waiting to hear what Harvick even said.
“That sounds like Harvick,” joked Truex.
But Truex won’t be rattled. He’s won seven races this year, been the most dominant driver all season and has three wins in these playoffs.
“It doesn’t work on me,” Truex said. “If I’m the favorite, perfect, I like that. I think it’s a better position to be in. I was the underdog before and I finished fourth, so yeah, bring it on.”
The field was finalized Sunday when Keselowski earned the final spot in the championship on points. He finished 16th at Phoenix Raceway and had to sweat it out because he was never in contention for the victory. Had one of four other drivers won the race, Keselowski would have been out.
And, had Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin not been feuding, Hamlin might have claimed the final spot over Keselowski on points.
“Just feel glad to make it through, you know, and have a shot next week,” Keselowski said. “You never know how these things are going to play out.”
Matt Kenseth passed Elliott with 10 laps remaining to win Phoenix and deny Elliott the final berth in next week’s championship race. Had Elliott hung on for the win, he would have qualified for the championship finale.
The Kenseth win salvaged the day for Joe Gibbs Racing, which had a chance to get Hamlin into the championship.
Hamlin and Elliott were racing for position and Elliott gave Hamlin several taps as he tried to get past him for position, and when he finally was able to pull alongside Hamlin, the two cars made contact. Hamlin grazed the wall and immediately began losing positions on the track.
Just a few laps later, his tire blew, Hamlin hit the wall and his race was over. Elliott admitted he raced Hamlin aggressively, same as Hamlin did when he wrecked Elliott from the lead at Martinsville.
“A wise man once told me that he’ll race guys how they race him with a smile on his face, so that’s what I did,” Elliott said. “I raced him how he raced me.”
Sunday’s Games Monday’s Games
(At) Hurricanes 5, Stars 1: Teuvo Teravainen had a natural hat trick in the third period and an assist and Sebastian Aho added his first goal of the season and two assists. Jordan Staal’s four assists gave him 201 with the Hurricanes, and Scott Darling stopped 25 shots.
Blues at Flames: Late
Hockey Hall of Fame: Dave Andreychuk retired in 2006 after a 23-year NHL career, and his 640 goals make him the 14th-highest scoring player. Of the 17 retired players to hit the 600-goal mark, he was the only one not in the Hall other than co-inductee Teemu Selanne despite being eligible for induction since 2009. Selanne became eligible this year, and both were among those inducted into the Hall Monday night. Also inducted into the Hall in Toronto were other NHL greats Mark Recchi, Selanne and Paul Kariya, and Canadian women’s star Danielle Goyette.
Islanders: Nikolay Kulemin underwent shoulder surgery on Monday that likely ends his season. The winger, 31, crashed awkwardly into the boards on a hit Tuesday and left the ice clutching his arm. The team announced that his recovery time will be six months.
Martin Truex Jr. is going for his eighth victory this season.