Kansas City, Kan. — Martin Truex Jr. had already locked up his spot in the next round of NASCAR’s playoffs.
Now, he’ll have the prime pit position for its first race.
Truex won the pole for this weekend’s elimination race at Kansas Speedway on Friday night, and with that prize came the chance to have pit choice at Martinsville. The paper clip-like geometry of that track makes stall selection arguably the biggest advantage of any track all season.
“We race one week at a time, try to do the best job we can, but we knew this was a big one tonight,” said Truex, whose victory at Charlotte punched his ticket to the round of eight. “Just proud of everybody for making the right adjustments, the right calls.”
Truex has dominated at Kansas Speedway for years, only for bad luck to conspire against him. But he broke through with a victory in May, and that’s kicked off a dominant stretch at intermediate tracks that has included a run of three consecutive wins at mile-and-a-half ovals.
“It’s been pretty terrible lately,” he said, sarcastically. “This stuff is so difficult and all these teams out here work so hard, trying to be better than we’ve been.
“If you’re not getting better you’re going backward.”
Truex was followed by playoff contenders Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin for Sunday’s race at Kansas. Kyle Busch will roll off eighth after barely escaping the first round of qualifying, while Jamie McMurray will start ninth and Brad Keselowski will start 11th after winning last week at Talladega to punch his ticket to the next round.
Jimmie Johnson, who is seven points ahead of Busch for the final spot in the next round, will start 13th after a solid run by his standards. Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott were right behind him, while Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will start 25th after failing to advance from the first round.
“The thing I’m looking at is progression through the rounds, what we picked up from practice, and that was trending the right way,” said Johnson, who missed the final qualifying round by a mere two-hundredths of a second. “We’re starting closer to the front than we have in quite a few weeks. Qualifying we know isn’t my sweet spot and I’m trying so hard to get better at that.”
Several drivers were white-knuckling it around Kansas Speedway with wind whipping up to 35 mph, and Harvick said a bobble caused by a bad gust may have cost him the pole.
“That thing was different every time we went into the corner, probably because of the wind,” he said. “The back stepped out and next thing I knew I was up a lane, but good knowing what’s on the line with pit selection (at Martinsville) and what we have to do this week.”