Martin Truex Jr. Lays Claim to Statement Victory in Chicago

Martin Truex Jr. opened up the playoffs as regular season points champion virtually locked in to the final four with all the points he has accrued. What did the driver of the No. 78 and his Furniture Row Racing team do to begin the playoffs? Come out and post a statement win at Chicagoland for the second consecutive year overcoming an early mistake and putting his Furniture Row Toyota Camry in Victory Lane.

Kyle Busch started the race on the pole after demolishing the competition all weekend in practice and qualifying. The No. 18 was miles ahead of the competition and lapped almost the entire field on his way to a stage one victory. The only thing that was going to cost Busch was a catastrophic mistake, and that is just what happened. After failing to secure a tire on a pit stop, Busch found himself a lap down, but when coming down to correct the issue, his team was handed down another penalty with “a man over the wall too soon” which saw the 18 fall two laps down and end any chance he had at winning. These fatal mistakes by his crew coming on the heels of the pit crew swap with teammate Daniel Suarez and the No. 19 made by Joe Gibbs Racing.

The team analyzed pit stop times and felt the move to swap out entire crews with the non-playoff team was best for business despite the No. 18 crew being with Busch all season and dealing with added pressure week-in and week-out. Kyle Busch was visibly disappointing following the race uttering the words “move on” multiple times in his post-race interview. Busch finished 15th and will no doubt come out as a man possessed next week when the field heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Meanwhile, race winner Martin Truex Jr. was able to overcome an early speeding penalty in stage one in which he was .06 mph over the speed limit exiting pit road. Truex had worked his way back into the top 10 at the conclusion of stage one before his team failed to secure all of the lug-nuts sending the 78 to the tail end of the longest line after the pit stop to correct the issue. Truex had lost all of the track position he had just made up.

The 78 car was better on the long run, the driver said on victory lane on NASCAR Race Hub. The adjustments made by the FRR team as track conditions shifted and cooled really helped the car find its groove. “It all just came together. Our car got a lot better. I knew we were in for a good day with our lap times back in traffic. Just had to be patient and take care of our car.

Chase Elliott took stage two with Kevin Harvick and Truex following. Soon into the final stage as the race was winding down, the No. 78 worked his way passed the No. 24 for second place and took the lead from Harvick in the No. 4. After Truex’s teammate Erik Jones spun out bringing out the caution, it came down to one final stop and restart with 52 laps to go. Truex exited pit road with the lead and elected to choose the top line even though Harvick had taken the lead over Elliott on a restart from the bottom.

The 78 of Truex fired off well with a push from Brad Keselowski behind and ran their fastest lap of the race. Truex led the rest of the way on his way to win number five of the season. “Great to finally break through and get back on top.”

Truex Jr. was slimed in victory lane thanks to Nickelodeon sponsoring the Tales of the Turtles 400 and it made for one of the coolest victory lane moments of the season. Another fantastic performance for Martin Truex Jr. on a 1.5 mile track. Truex now had 6 career wins on 1.5 mile tracks with back-to-back victories at Chicagoland and in 7 races this season has 4 wins, 7 top-10s and a staggering 765 laps led.

Martin Truex Jr. celebrates with his crew in Victory Lane after winning a NASCAR Cup Monster Energy Series auto race at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

After missing out on a few wins over the last month, the regular season points champion came out and declared a statement to the field of playoff drivers. If you want to win the title, you have to go through Truex first. MTJ downplayed the talk of any “statement win” and said the goal is just to go out and win every race and lead every lap, but everyone knows what this victory meant. The No. 78 rallied to their fifth win of the season and Truex Jr. was visibly elated in Victory Lane with his long-time girlfriend Sherry Pollex as she overcomes her own battle off the track. Martin Truex Jr. further displayed his dominance on the 1.5  mile and proved he can overcome mistakes and end up doing a burnout on the infield.

Follow Frank Pimentel on Twitter: @FrankBostonTank

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