But in the end, Saturday night’s GoBowling.com 400 ended with everyone simply wishing Aric Almirola the best.
It was Truex who prevailed in the race, a chaotic one at Kansas Speedway on Saturday night for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. It was his second win of 2017 and the ninth of his career. Truex was followed by Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Blaney, and Kyle Busch.
“It feels amazing to be here,” he said post-race, getting over the Kansas hump after 622 laps led, two runner-up finishes and a near-miss last year after dominating most of the event. “The close calls, the laps led, the heartbreaks that we’ve been through here. Definitely proud tonight to finally cross that checkered flag first and bring it home for the guys.”
For most of the night, it was a battle between Truex and Blaney as the sophomore driver put forth the best run of his short Cup Series career. Starting from the pole, the No. 21 Ford led 83 laps, won Stage two and appeared to have the race fall into his hands with a series of late cautions.
It was clear he had a good short run car. But on the restarts? Truex used his veteran expertise to pull off the lead, clean air, and the triumph he’d been so desperately seeking.
“I knew if I didn’t come out of those restarts with the lead, I wasn’t going to win,” he said. “Blaney was blocking pretty good, but I just had enough momentum and timed it just right that I could get to his other side when he blocked low. You know, those moments, you know what you need to do.”
“The No. 78 got us on that restart somehow,” Blaney said. “I was super loose there and the No. 78 got me spinning my tires a little bit. It kind of stinks. I felt that we had a great short run car tonight and I thought that was going to play right into our hands at the end.”
Also frustrated was Kyle Busch, who won Stage one but faded as the race wore on. Joe Gibbs Racing was unable to keep up with adjustments through the race’s 15 caution flags.
Among those yellow was a terrible crash involving Joey Logano, Danica Patrick, and Aric Almirola on lap 200. A brake rotor apparently failed on Logano’s car, sending him into Patrick, who slammed the outside wall. Almirola, running behind the wreck, lost control of his car attempting to avoid the mess. He slid into the front of Logano’s car entering turn 1.
Both Logano and Patrick were treated and released from the infield care center. However, Almirola had to be extracted through the roof of his car and was taken to the University of Kansas Medical Center for observation. According to officials, he was conscious and speaking to medical staff as they extracted him from his car; he was kept overnight for observation.
Pictures released from Getty Images a few hours after the wreck show Almirola grimacing in pain and in a neck brace. Richard Petty Motorsports claimed he was stable but issued no specific comment as to the extent of his injuries.
Drivers near and far reacted with concern for Almirola’s condition.
Prayers for @aric_almirola that he is okay ?
— Joey Logano (@joeylogano) May 14, 2017
Great night that ended really bad. Grateful for walking away, and hope Aric is ok….but my heart is breaking from this bad luck.
— Danica Patrick (@DanicaPatrick) May 14, 2017
— Spencer Gallagher (@23SpeedRacer) May 14, 2017
Man, struggled all damn night. I'll take a top 10. Sure hope @aric_almirola is ok. Scary to see people and families you know like that. ?
— Clint Bowyer (@ClintBowyer) May 14, 2017
The wreck caused a nearly 30-minute red flag. Once the race got back underway, several more cautions kept the race a back-and-forth battle between Truex and Blaney. Madness often occurred behind them; Truex’s teammate Erik Jones spun three times while Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson wrecked together late. Four drivers failed to finish due to crashes while the yellows left 25 of the 40 drivers finishing on the lead lap.
When the smoke cleared, the win helped keep Truex in second place in the point standings. He was able to close the gap between himself and points leader Kyle Larson, who finished sixth, to just 44 markers entering NASCAR’s All-Star Break.
Behind Larson at Kansas in seventh was rookie Daniel Suarez, tying a career best in the Cup Series. Jamie McMurray, Clint Bowyer, and Trevor Bayne rounded out the top 10. Last week’s winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was 11th, Michael McDowell was a season best 13th and Austin Dillon was 16th despite a crash at the checkered flag. Carl Long, racing for the first time in the Cup Series since his infamous $200,000 fine eight years ago wound up in 31st position.
NASCAR’s top division is back on track at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday night, May 20 for the exhibition Monster Energy Open. That will begin at 6 p.m. ET for the right to compete in the Monster Energy All-Star Race two hours later. Both events will be televised on FOX Sports 1.
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