Martin Truex Jr. finished third and led a race high of 96 laps in Sunday’s overtime playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
When it came to long runs at the 1.5-mile oval, Truex’s No. 78 5-hour ENERGY Toyota was in a class by itself. But it was the short runs due to a bunch of late cautions – six in the final 60 laps — that most likely cost the Furniture Row Racing driver a victory.
When asked about the short runs in post-race interviews Truex said, “It took the race away from us no question. With 15 laps or so we could take the lead and drive away. Actually we were a little too good on the long runs. I wish maybe we could have gone the other direction a little bit and still been able to get the lead. If we were the leader, we could do ok, I could maintain.
“But when I was second, third or fourth it just made the car tight enough that I had to wait for it to come to me or wait for other guys to start getting off the bottom in front of me. We had a winning a car, it just didn’t work out for us today. Really proud of the effort.”
Truex showed his speed early in the sweltering 100-degree heat. He started 10th and went on to win the first stage, which earned him one playoff point and 10 standing points.
He finished third in the second stage, and with his third-place final result, he accrued the most driver points for the race (52) and moved into first place in the NASCAR Cup Series playoff point standings. (See playoff point standings below.) Twelve of the 16 playoff drivers will advance into the next round.
“All in all it was a great day for everybody on the 5-hour ENERGY Camry crew,” Truex said. “All the guys did a phenomenal job this weekend. Thanks to the guys back in the Denver shop. It’s pretty cool to see the effort going into these last 10 (races).”
Brad Keselowski won the Las Vegas race and automatically advances to the next round. Rounding out the top 10 finishers were: Kyle Larson, Truex, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola, Kyle Busch, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Newman and Paul Menard.
The overtime race (272 laps) had 12 cautions for 59 laps and there were 23 lead changes among nine drivers.
The next two first round playoff races will be at Richmond Raceway Saturday evening (Sept. 22) and at the new road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway Sunday Sept. 30.
Driver Standings After First Playoff Race
1. Martin Truex Jr., 2087 points
2. Kyle Busch, 2085
3. Brad Keselowski, 2069 (with win advances to next round)
4. Kevin Harvick, 2060
5. Joey Logano, 2056
6. Kurt Busch, 2046
7. Ryan Blaney, 2042
8. Kyle Larson, 2041
9. Aric Almirola, 2034
10. Austin Dillon, 2031
11. Clint Bowyer, 2029
12. Alex Bowman, 2028
13. Jimmie Johnson, 2022
14. Chase Elliott, 2019
15. Erik Jones, 2009
16. Denny Hamlin, 2008
FRR PR/Photo Credit Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images