It was a Martin Truex Jr. blowout, a Jamie McMurray blow-up and a Jimmie Johnson “We blew it again.”
Truex cruised to a decisive victory in Sunday’s Citizen Soldier 400 at Dover International Speedway, a race that pared the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field from 16 drivers to 12.
Winning for a fourth time this season, a second time at Dover and the seventh time in his career, Truex was without peer after a pit road snafu on Lap 279 of 400 knocked Johnson off the lead lap and out of contention for the win.
Racing at the track closest to his Mayetta, New Jersey, home, Truex beat runner-up Kyle Busch to the finish line by 7.527 seconds, bettering his 7.355 margin of victory at The Monster Mile in his 2007 maiden win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
If Truex wasn’t considered the driver to beat after his Chase-opening victory at Chicagoland, he will be after drubbing the rest of the competition on Sunday.
“We’re not messing around, I guess,” Truex said, understating the case for his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team. “I don’t know — what else can you say? We’re here to get it done, and, golly I’m telling you just the best bunch of guys you could ever ask for. It’s just amazing to drive their race cars and do what we were able to do. I’m just ecstatic.
“I mean, this is just unbelievable. Especially here — I love this race track. It’s been considered a home track for me for a long time. It’s been since ’07 since I won here. Have a lot of heartbreaks here, but all in all, just a phenomenal race car again today. Golly, man, it’s just … I’ve got to pinch myself. We’re ready to go to Charlotte (for the opening race in the Round of 12).”
Chase drivers dominated the top nine in the finishing order, with Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Johnson, Austin Dillon and Denny Hamlin running third through ninth, respectively.
All nine drivers advanced to the Chase’s Round of 12, along with Carl Edwards (14th on Sunday), Kurt Busch (15th) and Kevin Harvick, who blew a tire on Lap 34, went to the garage for repairs and finished 37th, one lap down.
But Harvick’s calamity wasn’t costly, because his victory at New Hampshire last weekend provided a guaranteed spot in the Round of 12.
McMurray and Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Kyle Larson had no such insurance policy, and both were bounced from the Chase on Sunday. Larson suffered ignition problems early on and later scraped the Turn 3 wall on Lap 182 to cause the third of four cautions.
He finished 25th, six laps down and ceded his spot in the Round of 12 to Dillon, whose strong, steady performance ensured three more races as a championship contender.
After complaining of a drive-train vibration in his No. 1 Chevrolet, McMurray saw his worst fears realized when his car erupted in a huge plume of smoke on Lap 193, causing the final caution. McMurray retired in 40th place, joining Chris Buescher, who was never a factor in the Round of 16, on the Chase sidelines.
Johnson had problems on his Lap 279 pit stop, but issues with the fueling of the car weren’t what cost him a chance to win. Johnson’s jack man stepped over the pit wall early enough to make a phone call before Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet arrived, and the resulting penalty cost the six-time champion a lap he never recovered.
With perhaps the fastest car on the track, however, Johnson drove to seventh at the finish, the first car one lap down.
“When I was coming into my pit box, the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) and the No. 43 (Aric Almirola) were just leaving theirs, and they were directly behind my box,” Johnson explained. “I had to slam on the brakes and get turned and get underneath those guys to come in, and I was pretty close to my box, so I assume that just threw the rhythm off the pit stop and somebody came off the wall early.
“Certainly a mistake, but it’s not one that I’ve ever had happen on the No. 48 team. Thankfully, we had a strong car that we were only a lap down and still ended up seventh. I do feel like one got away, but very proud of this Lowe’s race team. I’m happy to be advancing. We’re certainly thrilled about that, but feel like one got away today.”
Check out the unofficial results of the Citizens Soldier 400.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!