It’s probably easier to save the following line than to type it again this season, since it’s almost certain we’ll see it again:
Martin Truex Jr. won another NASCAR race on Sunday, and he’s still the favorite to win the championship in November at Homestead.
The only difference between this race, Truex’s league-leading seventh win this season, and the other wins is that Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 was the second cutdown race of these NASCAR playoffs. Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch were the lucky survivors, while Matt Kenseth and Kyle Larson – whose engine blew early and unexpectedly knocked him out of the playoffs – were eliminated.
Larson’s elimination was the biggest wrench in the entire race, as it paved the way for Johnson to continue on. Had he not suffered that catastrophic blow, Johnson would likely be heading home and Larson would still have a shot at winning his first NASCAR championship.
Stage 1: Kyle Busch pitted for a new set of tires midway through the stage, which propelled him from seventh to first. He held that lead to win the stage, but the biggest story of this stage was Kyle Larson’s engine going. Larson has been a championship contender all season, but now his season ends prematurely.
Stage 2: Denny Hamlin won the second stage after a late caution. Kyle Busch, Kenseth, and Johnson – the three former champions vying to stave off elimination – also scored stage points to keep the leaderboard tight.
Stage 3: A major wreck shook up the playoff picture big time, as Kenseth was damaged and ultimately eliminated for a crew penalty. Truex eventually assumed the lead, as has been customary for him this season, and cruised to his seventh win this season, the most of any driver.
Three who mattered
Martin Truex Jr.: It’s almost boring that Truex won again this week, but he’s just too fast for anyone else to catch. A few wrecks muddied the race, and he came through the traffic to emerge with another victory.
Kyle Busch: Busch didn’t win the race, or even come close to doing so, but what matters is that he finished at all. In doing so, he sneaked into the third round of the playoffs, and now he has a chance to make a run back up the leaderboard.
Kyle Larson: The unluckiest of days for Larson, whose season ended Sunday. His engine blew in the first stage, and his elimination meant other drivers on the bubble – namely Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch – advanced to the third round.
▪ It was an emotional race for Truex, Erik Jones, and everyone at Furniture Row Racing, where road-crew fabricator James “Jim” Watson pass away at 55 on Saturday night. Watson suffered a heart attack and is survived by his wife and daughter.
▪ A crash in Lap 197 didn’t doom Kenseth, who was positioned to advance in the playoffs, but the resulting red-flag time did. He was penalized for having seven men over the wall fixing the car, which violated the damaged car policy and eliminated him from Sunday’s race, and consequently, the playoffs.
▪ Larson’s elimination brings up memories of last season, when a blown engine similarly doomed Truex’s terrific season. Truex, like Larson, was one of the fastest cars all season long, but he also failed to advance to the third round of the playoffs.
They said it
“I was thinking ‘Aw crap, this sucks.’” – Larson on his first reaction to his engine blowing and realizing his season was over.
First Data 500
Where: Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Va.
When: 3 p.m. Sunday.