Martin Truex Jr. rallied to win the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400, the first race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, on Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.
The victory wasn't surprising, as Truex and Furniture Row Racing were considered championship favorites leading into Sunday's playoff opener, but it did require Truex to overcome a flat front tire that dropped him a lap behind the leaders.
A fast car and a timely late yellow flag aided that comeback. As Chase Elliott held a comfortable lead over Truex with four laps remaining, Michael McDowell crashed to bring out the caution. After pit stops, Truex restarted fourth with four fresh tires behind Ryan Blaney, Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards, who all elected not to pit.
When the race resumed Truex quickly passed the three cars ahead of him and pulled away for his third win of the season and sixth of his career. Joey Logano finished second, followed by Elliott in third, Blaney fourth and Brad Keselowski fifth.
The victory automatically transfers Truex to the second Chase round when the 16-driver field is narrowed to 12 after the completion of races Sept. 25 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Oct. 2 at Dover International Speedway.
"We did what we came here to do," Truex said. "It was a good weekend for us. We had to overcome some adversity, obviously. That was tough. But really proud of our team for everybody sticking together, everybody keeping their heads down and never quitting till it was over."
Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, defending Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth and Alex Bowman completed the top-10 finishers.
Truex's car fails postrace tech
Afterward NASCAR announced the cars of Truex and 12th-place finisher Jimmie Johnson failed the postrace Laser Inspection Station, which takes various measurements on the car. Because Truex's No. 78 Toyota did not fail by an excessive amount, he can keep the win and use it to ensure advancement to the next round.
Truex is facing an inconsequential 15-point deduction, while crew chief Cole Pearn could be fined a minimum of $22,000 -- though the penalties could be increased as Pearn was also sanctioned following last week's regular season finale at Richmond International Raceway.
Johnson, who is also in the Chase, faces a potential 10-point penalty. That could have more significance, as he would fall into a three-way tie with Kevin Harvick and Austin Dillon for the final transfer position.
Any penalties would be announced mid-week, likely Wednesday.
Title contenders have eventful day
In addition to Truex, several Chase drivers experienced myriad issues on Sunday. Harvick appeared to have the fastest car, needing just 20 laps to move from 38th into the top 10, but fell a lap down when a caution came out while he was pitting. He was never able to recover and finished 20th.
Busch finished eighth despite a pit road speeding penalty, and Johnson finished 12th after committing a similar infraction. For Johnson, who led a race-high 118 laps and stressed not committing mistakes in the playoffs, it was an especially frustrating penalty.
"I was dumbfounded that happened," Johnson said. "You can't argue it, maybe a mistake on our part somewhere, definitely a mistake on my side, but I by no way shape or form thought that I was speeding. I was probably the slowest down pit road all day just to try to avoid it and got nailed."
Rookie upstart digs a hole
When Chris Buescher unexpectedly qualified for the Chase with a weather-assisted victory Aug. 1 at Pocono Raceway, it was expected he would struggle to be competitive with Front Row Motorsports not among NASCAR's top teams.
On Sunday, that exact scenario unfolded with Buescher finishing 28th, two laps down. He now needs to win either New Hampshire or Dover to avoid elimination.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES 400 RESULTS
|1||6||Martin Truex, Jr.||Toyota||270||Running||32|
|25||23||Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.||Ford||268||Running||0|