JOLIET, Illinois — Martin Truex Jr. recorded his third win of the season to kick off the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, taking the victory in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400.
“We have more races to win,” Truex said. “The more we can win, the better. What can I say? There are so many people who are responsible for this, and I’m glad I get to drive this 78 with Cole Pearn (crew chief) and everybody on this team.”
Joey Logano finished second, Chase Elliott was third, Ryan Blaney fourth and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-five.
A blown tire for Michael McDowell resulted in the fourth and final caution of the race with four laps remaining and Elliott as the race leader and Truex in second. Elliott and Truex, along with previous race front-runners pitted, while Blaney, Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards stayed out to restart in the top-three spots.
Story continues below advertisement.
“That decision (to stay out) wasn’t difficult at all,” Blaney said. “We kind of made that decision before everyone else came (down pit road), and we had nothing to lose as far as points. I wish a couple more cars stayed out.”
When the race returned to green, Truex quickly got by all three cars that stayed out and took the lead just before the white flag. Logano followed him through for second.
“It was awesome execution by the 22 team from every angle,” Logano said. “We had a very fast race car and were awesome on pit road.”
Prior to the final caution, Elliott had led most of the laps since getting by Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson on lap 180. Truex overcame an unscheduled pit stop for a tire issue to move into second with a pass on Johnson with 33 laps to go. By the end of the race, Elliott was credited with 75 laps led and Truex 32.
“I expected it (the caution),” Elliott said. “We’ve all watched this stuff long enough. We know these races don’t go green that long, typically. We know that we see late-race cautions way more often than not. That’s a part of racing, from short-track racing, all the way up to this stuff.”
Johnson led a race-high 118 laps, but while running third to Elliott and Truex, he was busted for speeding on pit road during the final cycle of green-flag pit stops with just under 30 laps remaining in the 267-lap race.
“I just can’t believe I got in trouble down there leaving the pits,” Johnson said. “I feel terrible for these guys. It should have been a top-five day, but I will back down pit road even more and try not to make that mistake.”
Johnson took command of the race during a caution that came on lap 49 when a tire got away from Aric Almirola’s team during a green-flag cycle of pit stops. Johnson was on pit road when the caution came out, but his team continued service. Despite the stay on pit road, Johnson managed to remain on the lead lap and stayed out while others pitted under caution to take the race lead.
Harvick, like Johnson, also was on pit road when the yellow flag waved, but instead of completing his service on pit road, his team only changed two on the initial stop and brought him back down pit road to change the other two under the yellow. Harvick wound up going a lap down.
Several laps later, Truex joined Harvick off the lead lap. After leading laps early, he fell off the pace and made an unscheduled pit stop for an issue with his right-front tire on lap 69. He got back on the lead lap during the second caution that came out on lap 120.
Soon after getting back on the lead lap, Truex made contact with another caution, causing damage to his car that resulted in a tire rub. He eventually got back on the lead lap and just past lap 200 cracked the top-five.
Johnson was joined up front by Elliott just past lap 100. Elliott previously had trouble getting by Keselowski for the second position, but during a cycle of pit stops that began on lap 102, Elliott gained on Keselowski and was second in the running order when the cycle completed on lap 105.
After Kyle Busch started on the pole and led the first 21 laps, Truex took the race lead and was still up front before pitting during the lap 49 yellow flag and turning the lead over to Johnson. After remaining in the top-five throughout the race until a green-flag cycle of stops just before lap 170, Busch went a lap down because of a pit-road speeding penalty. He eventually got back on the lead lap
Busch was the second Joe Gibbs Racing driver to take a speeding penalty, as Matt Kenseth was assessed the same penalty during the second caution of the race.
NOTES: Ty Dillon filled-in for Regan Smith behind the wheel of the No. 7 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet, as Smith was in North Carolina with wife Megan, awaiting the birth of their second child. … Pole qualifying was cancelled on Friday. With the starting grid set based on points, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski started on the front row and the 16 Chase for the Sprint Cup drivers were credited with starts in the first eight rows, but Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson had to go to the back for the green flag for unapproved changes to their cars. … Alex Bowman was in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at Chicagoland Speedway, as he and Jeff Gordon continue to share the seat as substitute drivers for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who remains sidelined by a concussion. … Denny Hamlin won the 2015 race at Chicagoland Speedway. He also is the most recent winner in the series, winning Sept. 10 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. … Tony Stewart is the winningest driver at Chicagoland with three wins. Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski are the only other two Sprint Cup drivers with multiple wins at the track.