NASCAR Races into the Bluegrass State

SPARTA, KY - JULY 08: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway on July 8, 2017 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)
NASCAR Kentucky Speedway 2017
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota, leads a pack of cars during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway on July 8, 2017 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

The champions of NASCAR raced into the Bluegrass State with fury this weekend. Although most drivers were excited to return to the short-track that is Kentucky Speedway, the racing action wouldn’t be without its complications.

Buckle Up in Your Truck 225
NASCAR Kentucky 2017
Photo: Courtesy of NASCAR

The weekend began with racing action from the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, where Mother Nature expressed her domination over the sport. A series of downpours both altered Thursday’s on-track practice/qualifying schedule as well as the start of the Camping World Truck Series Buckle Up In Your Truck 225. In fact, this storm front washed out Keystone Light Pole Qualifying for this race and gave Camping World Truck Series point-leader Johnny Sauter the chance to lead the 32-car field to the wave of the green flag three hours past its original start time. This revised schedule seemed to throw Sauter off his game as Kentucky native Ben Rhodes would take the lead shortly into the 150-lap race and take the First Stage win.

Despite this win, Rhodes would also find his way moving backwards after a restart on Lap 42 would leave him falling outside of the top-10. On the restart lap, Rhodes made a move on the bottom, creating a three-wide logjam with Christopher Bell in the middle and TJ Bell on the outside. The trucks ran out of room as they entered Turn 3, with Christopher Bell moving down slightly on Rhodes’ Tundra, which had gotten loose entering the corner.

Rhodes spun up the track into the path of ThorSport Racing teammate Grant Enfinger, and both trucks were destroyed in the collision.

This incident would give Kyle Busch Motorsports driver Noah Gragson the opportunity to take the lead and the Stage 2 win. Like others, Gragson would also fall short in his desire to win this race as the laps wound down.

Instead, another Kyle Busch Motorsports driver would take the checkers. After surviving an accident and an early spin in this race, the No. 4 of Christopher Bell would bring home his third win on the 2017 season as the clock struck Midnight.

“This is pretty special,” said Bell. “We had our ups and downs in practice, but we had a really fast Tundra, and (crew chief) Rudy Fugle made great calls from the pit box after I made a mistake and spun out earlier in this race.”

Despite his latest win, Bell continues to sit 28 points behind the pole sitter of Thursday night’s race.

Alsco 300

 

NASCAR XFINITY Series Alsco 300
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 NOS Energy Drink Rowdy Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane with the trophy after winning the NASCAR XFINITY Series Alsco 300 at Kentucky Speedway on July 8, 2017 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

Severe weather would also postpone the start of Friday’s Alsco 300 race to Saturday afternoon.

As Mother Nature finally gave the powers that be in NASCAR a bit of reprieve on Saturday the XFINITY Series would have an opportunity to take to track. Led to the drop of the green flag by the winning owner of Thursday night’s Camping World Truck Series race, it quickly became apparent that Kyle Busch would be the driver to defeat for the Alsco 300 win.

Despite the No. 20 of Erik Jones racing his way past Busch for the Stage 1 win, the NASCAR veteran driver would continue to prove his dominance as the wind in each driver’s sail who dared to challenge him would dissipate as the laps wound down in this race.

Case in point, when the No. 12 of Ryan Blaney charged from the back to the top of the field, for the Stage 2 win, Busch would once again find his way past the hard driving Blaney in the final lap of this race, thanks to the four fresh tires on the No. 18 Joe Gibbs machine.

“These guys keep getting better, and we just bide our time a little bit as we did today,” Busch said. “We did what we needed to do to be there at the end and gave it our best opportunity there. We took four tires and that kind of got us behind there with two pit stops to go. And then some of those guys came in again. Obviously, our car was really fast out front, and once I got in clean air, I didn’t think anybody had anything for us.”

Series leader Elliott Sadler ran 12th and maintained a 45-point edge over second-place Byron, who fell short in his attempt to win a third straight race.

 

Quaker State 400
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts at Kentucky Speedway on July 8, 2017 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

Although weather would prove to play a dominating factor in the start of race weekend at Kentucky Speedway, another dominating force would be all the talk after the wave of the checkered flag in the Quaker State 400. That force be a driver who has quickly made a name for himself in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this season. Despite XFINITY Series race winner Kyle Busch taking the pole for this 267-lap race, race winner Martin Truex, Jr. would prove that he had the dominant car in Kentucky.
After picking up the win in both Stage 1 and Stage 2 of this race, Truex continued to hold a lead of more than 15 seconds over second-place Kyle Larson, with only eight cars remaining on the lead lap when the engine in Kurt Busch’s Ford expired, dumping oil on the 1.5-mile track. Under the caution, only Truex stayed out, with all other lead-lap cars coming to pit road for fresh tires.

“I thought we were dead,” Truex said. “I thought we were done.”

On old rubber and with a hard shove from Larson, who lined up behind him in the outside lane, Truex surged past Kyle Busch through the first two corners and held the lead until a wreck behind him at the end of the first overtime lap caused the ninth caution of the night and froze the field with Truex in the lead.

“This is completely unbelievable,” said Truex, who is tied with Johnson for the series lead in victories this season. “I’m so excited to win here. It felt like we had a shot last year and it got away from us on fuel mileage and just wanted to win here so, so bad after that. This is sweet redemption.”

The win was Truex’s third of the season, his first at Kentucky and the 10th of his career. Truex increased his series-leading playoff point total to 28, 12 more than that of second-place Jimmie Johnson.

The stars of NASCAR will return to the track at next weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Stay tuned to RacingJunk.com for all the latest NASCAR coverage.

 

About Ellen Richardson 161 Articles
Ellen Richardson is the author of Behind The Wheel for RacingJunk.com. This automotive sports junkie has a passion for telling an athlete's story while also covering various racing activities. Find out more about her at ellennrichardson.wordpress.com or follow Ellen on Twitter at @ellennrich or Instagram at elnrich33.
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