Undoubtedly it was a good day for the number 78 Furniture Row Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. After a spectacular performance throughout the race, he came away victorious from the Monster Energy Cup Series Kobalt 400 at the 1.5 mile Last Vegas track on Sunday.
Martin Truex Jr wins Kobalt 400 race at Las Vegas
The first stage was certainly eventful, when only 18 laps in the number 83 of Corey Lajoie ended up getting into the wall on turn two and brought out the first yellow flag of the day. With the number two car of Brad Keselowski leading the way, we saw the majority of cars pit as a result of the caution. Despite losing first place to Truex Jr in the race off pit road, Keselowski managed to regain that top position and stay there until the second caution came out on lap 60. This was due to Harvick’s front right tyre blowing up violently, sending him hurtling into the wall and subsequently out of the race. With only five laps left of Stage One, the race restarted with Truex snatching Keselowski’s reign from him and winning the first Stage.
In Stage Two, Truex managed to continue to dominate. Despite no extra cautions coming out within this stage, there was still plenty of action. The number 18 for Joe Gibbs Racing, Kyle Busch, became a victim of the increased amounts of time segment measurements along pit road, and earned himself a penalty for speeding by a mere 0.02 miles per hour. Disappointingly for him, he was ordered to go for a rerun down pit road and it pushed him back to 24th place and down a lap. Fortuitously for the Toyota driver, Busch ended up getting a “free pass” when everyone else pitted on lap 158, and he was able to return to the lead lap. All the while, Truex was doing a spectacular job of hanging onto that crucial first position by a whopping three second lead, and ended up winning Stage Two.
The final Stage brought with it a good mixture of incredible racing and different strategies. Going back to green with Truex still leading, Busch managed to recover from his earlier setback and worked his way up to fifth. However, the bad luck seemingly got handed over from brother to brother when Kurt Busch finally took his faulty car to pit road for a change of battery, after continual issues throughout the race. Shortly after, we saw everyone else head to pit road, except for the number 48 driver for Hendrick Motorsports, Jimmie Johnson. Hoping for a caution, he decided to stay out on the track and moved into first place. This was short-lived though and Johnson was not graced with the caution he’d hoped for. After relenting, Johnson went for a solo trip down pit road. This allowed Truex to take control of first once again with only 40 laps remaining.
Only 17 laps later, Keselowski moved in with surprising stealth and speed. He led for a brief while until the number 10 car of Danica Patrick ended up blowing its engine in a spectacular fashion that involved a lot of smoke. There were 15 laps left of the race when the majority of the field seized this opportunity to pit as a result of the caution that was put out for Patrick. This included Johnson who had to pit for a second time in quick succession, due to loose lug nuts. Keselowski prevailed in the race off pit road, and his chances looked good.
Yet, in true NASCAR fashion, the final laps provided incredible racing behind Keselowski that would soon involve him too.
With only two meagre laps to go, things really turned around. Keselowski encountered a problem, causing him to slow down and lose his first-place position to Truex, who was only too happy to return to the top. On the final lap, Kyle Busch and the number 22 car of Joey Logano ended up making contact, which spun Busch out and across the line. Instead of finishing within the top five, he finished 22nd. Busch blamed Logano for the incident and fists started to fly upon their return to pit road. Separately, Keselowski was interviewed and admitted to potentially “causing that wreck.” When asked what was happened to his car, he commented with “it was something pretty major because I lost brakes and the car wouldn’t turn… I just couldn’t get out of the way (of Busch and Logano).” Despite this admission, there is still a lot of speculation surrounding who was to blame. As for the fisticuffs – well – NASCAR is no stranger to its fair share of explosive displays of emotion.
Meanwhile, Truex ended up victorious as the carnage unfurled behind him on the track and away from the celebrations that ensued on Victory Lane. Speaking earlier in the day, he mentioned that “Stage racing will really benefit us.” He certainly wasn’t wrong. After being named as the driver who led more laps on 1.5 mile tracks in 2016 than anyone else, he has also become the first NASCAR driver to ever do a “clean sweep” and win all three Stages of the new Stage racing format.