Martin Truex Jr. would not be denied victory for the third week in a row.
After losing heartbreakers the past two weekends in the closing laps in Darlington, S.C. and Richmond, Va., the Furniture Row Racing driver roared back Sunday in NASCAR’s playoff opener with a dominating victory in the Tales of the Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.
He drove his No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota Camry to a 7.179 second margin of victory over second-place Chase Elliott. Truex led the second most laps (77) and led all but one lap in the final 78 laps of the race.
Erik Jones, driving the No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Toyota for Furniture Row Racing, had a number of issues, finishing 33rd and eight laps down.
Truex’s victory, his second straight at Chicagoland, had both personal and professional significance for the Mayetta, N.J. native. The win automatically transfers Truex into the second round of the NASCAR playoffs.
And from a personal standpoint, Truex set a personal career mark of five wins in a season. His previous season high for wins was four, set last year.
The win lifted Truex’s career NASCAR Cup Series wins to 12 with 10 of those victories coming as a Furniture Row Racing driver. And for the Denver, Colo.-based Furniture Row Racing it was the team’s 11th career Cup victory.
The victory was also good for an additional five playoff bonus points, bringing his total to 58. The first round of the playoffs has two races remaining – at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Dover International Speedway.
“It feels great, the best feeling in the world,” said an elated Truex just before he got slimed in Victory Lane by Nickelodeon’s Shaboozinator. “Not just the playoffs, but winning races and doing it the way we’re doing it right now. I’m just blessed to be here and I have the best team in the whole world and I love those guys. I’m glad I’m driving for them and glad we’re having success.”
Truex added, “I think last week was last week (Richmond). We got over it by Monday or Tuesday, focused on Chicago. Just trying to move forward and look forward each and every week and race one race at a time. We knew that this week was a big one. We wanted to come here and just run like we knew we could, not do anything out of the ordinary. Most importantly not let the pressure dictate how we raced or what we did. I think we did that.”
The victory was by no means smooth sailing for Truex and the Furniture Row Racing team. While running second he got nailed for a pit road speeding penalty following a green flag pit stop on Lap 40 of 267. He also had to make an unscheduled pit stop due to a loose lug nut.
“Martin did an unbelievable job driving back through the field in second stage, got us up to third,” said crew chief Cole Pearn. “Pretty confident towards the end of that run we were better than the 4 (Kevin Harvick) and the 24 Elliott), especially on the long run. We were just able to have a smooth, clean execution the last stage.”
Following Truex to checkered flag were: Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray.
The race had four cautions for 21 laps and there were 12 lead changes among seven drivers.
The next NASCAR Cup Series race is Sunday, Sept. 24 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.