JOLIET, Ill. — Martin Truex Jr. was so fast Sunday afternoon at Chicagoland Speedway that not even an early speeding penalty on pit road could keep his No. 78 Furniture Row Toyota from reaching victory lane.
Truex climbed his way back through the field and grabbed the lead for good on lap 190, driving away from the field and winning the opening race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs for the second-consecutive year.
“I’m so excited; this is the playoffs and this is what it’s all about,” Truex said. “My team is unbelievable and we love coming to Chicagoland. I’m so proud of everybody.”
“With the speeding penalty, I thought to myself, ‘Here we go again…’ but I remembered last year that we had to fight our way from the back of the field. The car was amazing, we just kept our heads down and we kept digging and fighting and did what we always do and here we are.”
Truex’s win was his series-leading fifth of the season and automatically advances him into the Round of 12.
“It’s not just about the playoffs, it’s about winning races at this level and to do it the way we’re doing it right now … I’m just blessed to be here,” he added. “I have the best team in the world. I love those guys. I’m just glad I’m driving for them and I’m just glad we’re having success. This is just unbelievable.”
Truex nailed the final restart on lap 213, setting sail and eclipsing runner-up Chase Elliott by over seven seconds once the checkered flag flew.
Was it a statement win? He doesn’t believe so.
“I don’t really care a whole lot about statements,” Truex said. “I’m just having fun and proud of this group. I’m proud of our pit crew for doing what they did. It’s important to come here and not let the pressure get to you, and I think we did a good job of that. Just any time you get to go to victory lane it’s special. This is a dream come true and we are having the time of our lives.”
Elliott won the second stage after beating Kevin Harvick off pit road during a series of green-flag pit stops halfway through the 80-lap stage.
However, restarts were the No. 24 team’s Achilles heel in the final stage, as Elliott again fell short of scoring his first-career Cup win.
“I thought we reached our potential today, but I didn’t have anything for Martin,” Elliott said. “We were solid and the car was a lot better than how we’ve been, so I think that’s a testament to this team and the lack of quit that everybody has. This is the time of year to go and we gave it our all today. We had just a solid day all around, our car was fast, we had good pit stops, our restarts were good even though they didn’t go our way, they were still good.”
“The circumstances I felt, kept them going in the way they did. Overall, we made the most of what we could today, without some luck I wasn’t going to beat the 78. I thought we did good today and we need to have more days like this.”
Kevin Harvick was the highest-finishing Ford driver in third, ahead of Denny Hamlin and Richmond winner Kyle Larson.
Playoff drivers accounted for nine of the top-10 finishers Sunday, with Joey Logano the lone spoiler in seventh.
Polesitter Kyle Busch dominated early in the 400-mile event, before a loose wheel and a penalty for his pit crew being over the wall too soon derailed any chance of Busch getting back to the front.
The 2015 Cup champion could never position himself for the free pass and ultimately finished 16th.
All 40 cars were running at the end of the event.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to action at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sept. 24.
Full race results can be viewed on the next page…