Martin Truex Jr. became the first driver to record multiple wins at Sonoma over the last ten years with his second victory at the track on Sunday when he and crew chief Cole Pearn out-dueled the competition, specifically Kevin Harvick and Rodney Childers. Truex led 62 of the 110 laps in the race including the final 20 in route to his third win of the season, 18th of his career and won at the pesky road course for the second time after recording his first ever win at the track back in 2013.
It was essentially a two-man race all day long. Kyle Larson started on the pole, but quickly lost track position and shuffled back in the field. Clint Bowyer had a third place car all day, but the difference between his and his teammates car was drastic. Denny Hamlin had the fourth-best car and took home the stage two win while the leaders were executing their strategy play, but he lost track position in the final round of green-flag stops and timing out his pit and wound up coming home 10th.
On the road courses you always have to keep your eye on the specialists, and one in particular, AJ Allmendinger. Dinger in the #47 Kroger QuickList Chevy wound up winning the first stage after Harvick and the leaders came to pit road and the 47 stood out to collect crucial points. He looked as if he was going to mix it up with the big dogs until the end and perhaps execute a strategy play to steal the race, but early in stage two he missed a shift, lost the engine and was visibly upset with himself. He took all the blame and for a team like his and a driver who grew up on road courses with the frequent-shifting and hard braking, it’s a tough day indeed. One would assume he will be a factor at Watkins Glen later this summer, the track he recorded his only career win on, but that doesn’t make this one any easier to swallow.
Lap 73 in the final stage is when the academy award was won by the #78 Furniture Row Racing team. Cole Pearn ordered Truex to the pits with the crew up on the wall, and knowing he would have to match the 78 and not give up time to fresh tires, Childers called Harvick to pit from the lead. Truex quickly aborted as it was all in code, Harvick came to the pits and Truex assumed the lead and rode it out until his final pit stop on lap 81. Truex, on the 8-lap fresher tires quickly ran down both SHR-Fords and cruised his way to a victory. Harvick and Bowyer along with almost the entire field came to pit road again on lap 92 knowing that a caution would be their only way to beat the 78, and that yellow flag they were all wishing for, did not come.
“All you’re doing is begging, hoping the caution doesn’t come out. Then you’d have to pit, and you don’t know what could happen. It messes the field up. Just hoping for no cautions and don’t make any mistakes and hope the engine stays together,” Truex said following the race.
“We knew we were going to do one stop, that was kind of our plan. We just really needed them to pit earlier for it to work out. It was a bit of a gamble, but obviously, it paid off. It worked out great. It’s tough. Everybody is so good that sometimes you have to do something different to pull one out,” Pearn said.
Harvick acknowledged that his team can’t win them all and everyone makes mistakes, “We had a shot today. The call was one thing, but I think I was too hard on the car the first couple of stages. The brake pedal was long after qualifying and never really came around during the race. It progressively got worse, and I kept losing drive about Lap 20 off of (Turn) 3 and was getting tight off of 4. I had a lot of problems I needed to work on, but all of our guys do a great job.”
Chase Elliott, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Erik Jones, Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman and Hamlin capped off the top 10 after Truex, Harvick and Bowyer. The series heads to Chicagoland Speedway next Sunday for the first race with the NBC crew as the FOX team turns it over after a great first-half of the year. In case you were wondering, Truex Jr. has won back-to-back races on the mile-and-a-half in Illinois and would be a safe pick to three-peat riding the momentum of the road course win in Wine Country.