Race Wrap Up: Truex's old-fashioned beatdown
How's that for an encore? Martin Truex Jr. did it all this weekend; he won the pole, swept the stages and dominated on his way to his second win in the Bluegrass State in Saturday's Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.
It was his fourth win of the season and first on a 1.5-mile track this year, which sounds hard to believe given his dominance at them last year, and Truex thinks Furniture Row is just now hitting their stride.
To the fans ...— NASCAR (@NASCAR) July 15, 2018
"We wouldn't be here without them." pic.twitter.com/ucsifGPeJT
"I feel like as a team we're getting dialed in more so like we were last year," Truex said. "I feel like this weekend we unloaded really strong off the trailer. We only made one qualifying run, it wasn't even a good one and we went out and got the pole because we made good adjustments. I do feel like we're getting closer, getting more dialed into what we're doing, to what the car wants with the new rules and things, and that's how I felt like we were last year."
In his last eight starts, Truex has three wins, three second-place finishes, a fourth at Chicago, and an outlying 18th-place result in the rain-delayed race at Michigan.
How Truex won the race: From the drop of the green flag, Truex was in his own zip code. After starting from the pole, Truex kept the field at more than an arm's length away through the first two stages. Brad Keselowski did make things interesting after taking two tires on a late pit stop, but once Truex got around him on Lap 201, there wasn't much drama at the front.
Two years into stage racing, Truex is still the only driver to win a stage at Kentucky. He upped his dominance from a year ago by leading 174 laps compared to 152 in this race last season, and beat Ryan Blaney to the checkered flag by nearly two seconds.
The most exciting part of the night was probably during his post-race burnout, when Truex's car rolled down the frontstretch banking as he hopped off for an interview with NBCSN.
Stenhouse vs Busch, a budding rivalry? Love him or hate him, Kyle Busch is always going to speak his mind. During his media availability Friday, Busch was asked if he had talked to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after he was crashed by Stenhouse at Daytona.
What happened next had the NASCAR world buzzing for two days.
"I can't worry about people that far back in the field," said Busch, who explained that he was disappointed that Stenhouse didn't reach out to him during the week.
Stenhouse didn't take that comment lying down, and fired back at Busch Friday.
"I felt like he ran his mouth enough on his radio, and then after the race, that I didn't really have anything to say to him," said Stenhouse, who confronted Busch on pit road during qualifying. "I told him, if you want to keep running his mouth, he can come over and do it around me, and I'll stop it for him myself."
"I normally do reach out to people when I make mistakes — and I clearly made a mistake — but with [Kyle Busch] running his mouth I don't really need to call him." — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. pic.twitter.com/6cvNHbxr6o— Nick Bromberg (@NickBromberg) July 13, 2018
Nothing happened between them during Saturday night's race, and we don't know if they'll have more run-ins, but it was nice to have some old-school trash talk this weekend at Kentucky.
Penske progress: With all three of their cars finishing in the top 10 Saturday, a trip to Kentucky was just what the doctor ordered for Team Penske. Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski both scored podium finishes, while teammate Joey Logano came home 10th.
For Keselowski, a three-time winner at Kentucky Speedway, Saturday night's showing was a step in the right direction for Penske's mile-and-a-half program.
"We've been good, not great this year, and this is a sport of great," he said. "You know, you've got to be great to win. This is the closest we've been to great this year on the mile-and-a-halfs."
Keselowski's streak of winning at Kentucky in even-numbered years was snapped, but his 38 laps led were the most he's been out front since leading 108 laps at Dover earlier this year. Blaney's runner-up finish was his first top five since Texas back in April.
Broken rotor ends Bowman's day: Alex Bowman's 100th start in the Cup Series is one he'd like to forget after a broken brake rotor sent him flying into the Turn 3 wall on Lap 111.
Bowman's first DNF of 2018 snapped a three-race top 10 streak for the Hendrick Motorsports driver. The good news for Bowman is he's still in the final playoff spot for now, but his lead over Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is down to just nine points as we head to New Hampshire.
"Absolutely we are right in the thick of the points stuff, so we can't afford this, this will hurt us quite a bit," Bowman said. "Really unfortunate, but it's not something that we could prevent. It's nothing that we caused and there is not much you can do about it. You pop a right front and have a long time to stare at the wall and then you hit it and then you've got to move on."
Trackbar failure leaves Larson frustrated: One of these days, Kyle Larson's luck will turn around. Until then, though, he and his fans are going to wonder what they've got to do to have a smooth day at the track.
Larson missed introductions at Kentucky and was forced to start at the tail of the field. No problem, he quickly worked his way through the pack and was challenging in the top five until the trackbar on his No. 42 apparently broke.
Crew chief Chad Johnston said the trackbar fell to its lowest possible setting and made Larson's car way too tight, forcing the team to make an extended pit stop in the final stage.
"We know that the trackbar fell to the lowest position it could," Johnston told NBC Sports. "Why that happened, we're still trying to figure out. Obviously when it fell, it tightens the car up and then we had to asses the situation if we could have fixed it. I don't think we could have without losing a lap. So then we just adjusted the car around the trackbar being that low. At that point, we lost too much track position and way too late to overcome it."
After dropping again to the tail of the lead lap, Larson was able to drive his way to a ninth-place finish, but you can't help but wonder if he may have had something for Truex.
Bloomin' Monday: You don't always consider a fifth-place finish quiet, but that was the case for Kevin Harvick Saturday night. No worries for us though, because thanks to Harvick's finish, we get a free Bloomin' Onion at Outback Steakhouse on Monday! Just race in and tell your server you're there for the Bloomin' Monday special and you'll get a delicious Bloomin' Onion at no charge.
Some are driven by hunger to win, others are driven by the hunger for our Bloomin' Onion! Visit us for your free Bloomin' Onion with purchase on Monday, July 16th. pic.twitter.com/WN0IPCL077— Outback Steakhouse (@Outback) July 15, 2018
Next week: NASCAR races into New England for the Foxwoods 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway! Who will conquer the Magic Mile and hoist Loudon the Lobster in victory lane? Last year, Denny Hamlin scored his first win of the season in this race. Is he due for a repeat, or will the big three lead the pack? The Performance Racing Network will have live coverage beginning at 1 p.m. Sunday, as well as flag-to-flag coverage of Saturday's Lakes Region 200 from NHMS.