Kansas City, Kan. — Martin Truex Jr. overcame two early mistakes to win a wild playoff elimination race at Kansas Speedway on Sunday, an emotional victory for his Furniture Row Racing team following the death of a crew member the previous night.
Truex was already assured of advancing to the round of eight after winning a couple weeks ago at Charlotte. But after starting on the pole, the season’s most dominant driver calmly overcame a restart violation and a loose tire early on to win for the seventh time this season.
Hours before the race, the Furniture Row team learned that fabricator Jim Watson had died Saturday night of a heart attack while in town for the playoff race. He was 55.
“We were racing for Jim today,” Truex said. “He was a heck of a guy.”
Kurt Busch finished second before a wave of playoff contenders headed by Ryan Blaney, whose car failed post-qualifying inspection. He quickly worked his way through the field from the 40th starting spot to finish third, easily making it within the playoff cutoff line.
Chase Elliott was fourth and Denny Hamlin finished fifth to punch their tickets to the next round. Kevin Harvick finished eighth to stay alive heading to Martinsville, while Kyle Busch finished 10th and Jimmie Johnson 11th — both of them making the cutoff line.
Brad Keselowski finished 13th after his win last week at Talladega sent him to the next round.
Kyle Larson blew his engine to spoil his chances of advancing, while a penalty on Matt Kenseth for having too many crew members of the pit wall following a wreck ended his championship hopes.
Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. also were eliminated from the playoffs.
Truex had dominated the 1 1/2-mile track at Kansas for years before finally breaking through with a victory in the spring. And while he had nothing to lose on Sunday, there was still a feeling that Truex wanted to win one for his late crew chief and the rest of their team.
“I can’t say enough about all these guys,” Truex said. “Just really proud of them, and definitely racing with a heavy heart. Jim was a great worker and put a lot of speed in these Toyotas.”
Larson began the race 33 points on the good side of the cut line, but he was forced to watch things play out after dropping a cylinder early in the race, then hearing his engine let go entirely.
His hopes improved when Erik Jones triggered a multi-car wreck on a restart with 70 laps to go, which collected McMurray and caused damage to Kenseth’s car. The former champion thought he would be able to continue when he reached pit road, but seven crew members hopped over the wall for repairs.
NASCAR’s damaged vehicle policy limits teams to six. The penalty is an immediate parking.
“I don’t know what the rules are. It seems like we have a lot of stuff that is changed so often I can’t keep up with it,” Kenseth said. “You’re not able to race anymore? I just don’t get it.”
The result left Larson hoping that Johnson, who started the day on the bubble, would falter. But despite two early spins, he managed to come home 11th to punch his ticket to the next round.
Stenhouse and McMurray, who both needed to win to advance, were involved in wrecks that ended their hopes. Stenhouse cut a tire and hit the wall with 93 laps left, while McMurray was near the front all afternoon before getting involved in the wreck that knocked Kenseth out.
“If we ever got to the lead,” McMurray said, “we could have led the race for a while.”
Kansas native Clint Bowyer spent much of the day in the top 10 before he was involved in the crash with 70 laps to go.
The three-race round of eight begins next Sunday at Martinsville. Johnson won last year’s race to punch his ticket to the finale at Homestead, where he won his seventh championship.
Hamilton wins U.S. Grand Prix
The fastest man on four wheels stood on the U.S. Grand Prix podium with the fastest man on two feet.
Together, Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton and retired sprinter Usain Bolt struck Bolt’s familiar “To the World” pose, their fingers pointing to the sky and perhaps the way toward another Hamilton Formula One championship.
Hamilton tightened his control on the F1 season title by winning the U.S. Grand Prix ahead of title rival Sebastian Vettel, who finished second in a race he said he had to win.
It was Hamilton’s fourth consecutive win at the Circuit of the Americas and fifth since 2012. His ninth win of the season also opened a 66-point lead on Vettel with three races left. While mathematically still possible, Vettel’s title hopes are nearly wiped out as the series heads next week to Mexico City, where Hamilton won last year.
“I think this is my favorite track now,” Hamilton said after another dominant performance in Texas.
Hamilton is on a late-season charge toward a championship that would further define his legacy in the sport. Formula One’s first and only black driver could join Vettel as a four-time season champion. Only Germany’s Michael Schumacher (7) and Argentina’s Juan Manuel Fangio (5) have won more.
“I don’t let my mind go there,” Hamilton said. “Three races to go, three races to win.
Vettel seemed resigned to the reality that his title hopes collapsed with his second-place finish.
“It wasn’t our race to win,” Vettel said. “We tried to fight. We got beaten fair and square.”
Vettel had pushed hard for the win and surprised Hamilton when he grabbed the lead out of a fast start, but the Mercedes reeled in the Ferrari just a few laps later.
Vettel bolted off the line and Hamilton moved left to try to squeeze Vettel into the inside of the first turn. The German held his ground, cut through the corner and tucked the nose of his Ferrari in front as the cars did the slingshot left turn back down the 130-foot elevation,
Vettel’s advantage was quickly swallowed up by the power that Hamilton’s Mercedes had shown all week. Hamilton caught Vettel on lap six and passed him heading into the turn at the end of the circuit’s long straight. It was the same move on the same turn Hamilton used to pass Vettel to win the race in 2012.
“Sebastian had a great start. I as kind of chill about because I knew from the past you can overtake here,” Hamilton said. “I was a bit surprised Sebastian didn’t defend more.”