Martin Truex Jr. had no problem chasing down leaders during most of Saturday night’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. The Bass Pro Shops Toyota would get a few seconds behind, cast a line and reel in the first-place car.
He caught polesitter Carl Edwards three times, and Matt Kenseth and Trevor Bayne once each.
But on a restart with 33 laps to go, Truex came up against a Kyle Busch car that was too strong to reel in. Busch pulled away from Truex and the rest of the field on the way to his second-straight NASCAR Sprint Cup win, and second-straight weekend sweep.
Truex finished sixth after leading a race-high 141 laps.
Tires were the difference.
Truex and Austin Dillon were the only cars on the lead lap not to pit during a caution around lap 289 of 334. Truex maintained his lead on that restart, but the caution flag flew again just a few laps later for the “Big One”: Dillon slid up the track in turn two, into Jimmie Johnson’s path. Johnson couldn’t avoid the contact and put Dillon into the wall, resulting in a 13-car accident on the backstretch.
On the ensuing restart at lap 302, Busch surged forward on new tires and Truex slipped backward on older ones.
“We just kept getting yellows, and kept getting caution laps and the tires just kept getting more air in them and more air in them and by the time we finally got rolling there it just didn’t have the grip everyone else had and it’s just sliding around,” Truex said. “It’s frustrating, but that’s racing. That’s how it goes sometimes.”
Busch beat the field by 3.904 seconds, leading 34 laps. In the Xfinity race the night before, he led 150 laps and won by 3.055 seconds. Add in the wins in Martinsville, Va., and that’s four wins in eight days over three series.
“It’s pretty darn good,” he said. “It’s just fun. Right now it’s all clicking and going together.”
The No. 18 team had to work for it, though. Busch hovered around the bottom half of the top 10 for most of the first half of the race. While exiting pit road during the first pit stop, Busch was rear-ended by Johnson, with both cars sustaining minor damage.
“Early in the race we weren’t all that great,” Busch said. “I feel like probably until about 130 to go, I felt like we were just off a little bit. We just didn’t have it.”
Things started to change toward the end of the race. Busch moved up to second by lap 240 and started gaining ground on Truex late in the race, before the last few cautions.
Busch said that when the team pitted with about 70 laps to go, the team made some changes to the car that made it faster, allowing him to track down the leader.
“(Crew Chief) Adam (Stevens) made awesome adjustments all night long,” Busch said. He “kept us in the game and kept getting us better and took us from probably being a sixth-eight-place car, something like that, to then being able to run up front in the top three. ...
“Hats off to those guys on the pit box.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished behind Busch, overtaking third-place Joey Logano in the final 10 laps of the race.
“We had a fast car, probably good enough to win,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “We finished up there where we should have. We need a win. We’d love a win. I know our fans want a win really bad.”
Johnson, who had won the previous three Sprint Cup races at Texas, finished fourth and rookie Chase Elliott finished fifth, his first career top-five finish in the Sprint Cup.
Truex wasn’t the only one with a disappointing finish to a strong night. Edwards, who started on the pole, led 124 laps and ran in the top three for most of the night. But after the restart on lap 222, he had to return to pit road with a loose tire and ended up finishing seventh.
Matt Kenseth spent most of the night in the top 10 and led 20 laps in the race but finished 11th after more bad luck this season. He had to return to pit road to tighten a loose rear tire late in the race.
But the night, once again, belonged to Busch. And up next is Bristol Motor Speedway, a track where he has already won five Sprint Cup races.
“Things are clicking,” Busch said. “Things are jelling. ... It’s all worked really well and it’s been exciting to have the success that we’ve had as of late, and let’s just keep it going.”