SPARTA, Ky. (AP) – Martin Truex Jr. boldly declared his Toyota the best car he had ever raced, and several statistics make it hard to dispute him.
There also was plenty of visual evidence of how close to perfect his Saturday night went.
Truex was dominant throughout and had enough left on a final restart to win the NASCAR Cup race night at Kentucky Speedway.
“It was very big to do what we did tonight,” Truex said. “I can never recall saving fuel and pulling away from everybody before, so it was pretty amazing.”
Second in points entering the 400-mile event, Truex started second beside Kyle Busch and won the first two stages. Truex led the final segment by as many as 15 seconds before a final caution created overtime and bunched the field together.
That made no difference as Truex got a push past Busch on the restart and went on to his third victory of the season and 10th of his career. He led five times for 152 of 274 laps and swept all three stages in the No. 78 Toyota to earn 60 points, including seven playoff points, and draw within one of standings leader Kyle Larson, who finished second in a Chevy.
Truex’s dominant performance wasn’t the only reason he was smiling. He was eager to get back and bring his girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, home after a medical procedure. Pollex has battled ovarian cancer and tweeted Saturday that there had been a recurrence requiring surgery.
“Everything went perfectly good, went as planned,” he said. “I’m bringing her home tomorrow, so I’m excited to see her and everything’s going great. She was pretty excited.”
Chase Elliott was third in a Chevy, followed by Denny Hamlin and Busch in Toyotas. Busch led 112 laps, but fell short of his third Kentucky victory.
Then again, Truex wasn’t inclined to let anyone get close in earning his first Kentucky triumph.
Pole winner Busch pounced right away and led the first 66 laps but often had Truex close by in the battle of Toyotas. Truex twice found the speed to make timely passes and ultimately took the first two stages, but he saved his best for the last segment.
Running seventh as the third stage began, Truex was back in front within several laps and merely got stronger as he went along. He had a 13-second lead with about 55 laps remaining and was running all alone before Kurt Busch blew an engine with two laps left to create extra time.
It didn’t matter.
Truex’s dominance stole the spotlight from Kyle Busch, who won the Xfinity Series race earlier Saturday and for a while appeared headed toward NASCAR’s first same-day sweep of the two series. But Kentucky’s most dominant driver — nor anybody — else could touch Truex.
Larson’s finish was impressive considering he started 40th after failing inspection on Friday. He soon was among the contenders before being penalized for speeding on pit road, overcoming that setback to pass Kyle Busch after the final restart.
“We were second best, but he’s in a whole new league right now,” Larson said, giving a nod to Truex.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. led three laps and finished 12th, one spot higher than he started in his final Kentucky start.
An uneventful first stage was quickly followed by several wrecks that knocked out some notable drivers, including defending race winner Brad Keselowski.
Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford got sideways and made contact with Clint Bowyer before collecting Jimmy Johnson. Bowyer returned but Johnson and Keselowski were done with heavy damage.
“I knew I was in a bad spot,” said Keselowski, who started 10th and sought his fourth Kentucky win. “I think I tore up two or three others guys and that sucks for them.”
Soon after, Kasey Kahne was done after colliding with Trevor Bayne, who eventually went to the garage after another spin.
MAKING AN ENTRANCE
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin repelled onto the track from a Kentucky Air National Guard Blackhawk helicopter to deliver the green flag. It was no simple ride for the former U.S. Army captain, who hung on the rope with three members of the Special Tactics Squadron for several anxious moments as the aircraft circled around the speedway with spectators looking upward.
Bevin was slowly lowered into the frontstretch grass and smiled as he touched the ground. He then stepped into a Toyota Camry pace car to lead the 40-car field to the green flag.
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