Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Martin Truex Jr. Pummels the Competition in Kentucky

Who’s in the headline

Martin Truex Jr. doesn’t need to look for vacation property in Sparta, Ky. because he already owns Kentucky Speedway. Truex won the pole, both stages and the race in a second straight commanding performance at the track. The only difficulties Truex had during the evening were his car slipping out of gear on the frontstretch while celebrating the win and getting lost on his way to Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Victory Lane.

The only trophy Truex didn’t win at Kentucky was Rookie of the Race because he wasn’t eligible. That went to William Byron.


What happened

Truex started from the pole and jumped to the lead for the first 37 laps of the race. When he came to the pits, Brad Keselowski led for a lap followed by Ryan Blaney. Once Blaney stopped, we saw our first strategy play of the race as Kurt Busch stayed out and led 21 laps. Once Busch pitted, Joey Logano, Alex Bowman and Jimmie Johnson each led briefly before it finally cycled back to Truex. The 2017 MENCS champion held the point for the rest of the stage and scored an uneventful win.

On the post-stage caution, Kurt Busch only took two tires. When the race went back to green, Busch jumped out to the lead and held it for 10 laps before Truex ran him down and passed him. The No. 78 Toyota led the remainder of stage two which ran incident free after Alex Bowman’s wreck sent the No. 88 team straight to the garage.

Stage three started with another tire gamble, this time by Keselowski. He was caught speeding during the pit stops in stage one and spent much of the race clawing back toward the front. His team took a shot to get him in clean air, taking right sides only. It worked for 37 laps until Truex chased him down and retook the lead. On lap 207, JJ Yeley suffered a blown motor to bring out a caution. Kurt Busch’s team took another shot with two tires and he was able to take the lead one more time but, once again, it was Truex who was just too strong. He overtook Busch with 44 laps to go and cruised to victory from there.

There were some heroic efforts on pit lane during the race. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had some tire issues early. His team worked on his car throughout the race and, while he finished one lap down, the No. 17 team never gave up. Keselowski’s team faced adversity as well, getting a speeding penalty early and having to use pit strategy to get back near the front. Finally, Kyle Larson‘s car had a broken track bar adjuster. They ultimately made a wedge adjustment to his car that included seven rounds into the right side and seven rounds out of the left side. Larson came from 28th on the final restart to finish ninth.

Why you should care

Everyone remembers the dominant season Truex had in 2017. He won eight races en route to his championship. The fact people might not remember was, when he dominated Kentucky last year, that was just his third win of the season. He already has four this year.

Last season, Truex notched 19 top-five finishes. He has 13 in the books already in 2018. While Stewart-Haas Racing showed strength again Saturday night (July 14) and Kevin Harvick was near the front, he wasn’t a threat to win. If Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn continue to find their stride again, it could be another championship run for the No. 78.


What your friends are talking about

The invention of the Tire Dragon has helped prepare drag strips for years, putting down consistent rubber in the launch areas of racetracks. When NASCAR was dealing with repaved racetracks in recent history, it wanted to figure out a way to get rubber into unused areas, so it resorted to that same type of tire-dragging system. However, there was a slight problem at Kentucky Speedway this weekend. The folks who chose to utilize the Dragon apparently didn’t pay attention as to where the races were run in the past. The areas that the Dragon was utilized, then weren’t always in places where the racecars run. It may have been an effort to do it again but they should have gotten the racing groove right the first time around.

The operations manager at Kentucky Speedway is going to have a lot of explaining to do in the post-race debrief. Friday night, the sprinkler system on the ‘ballfield’ inside the frontstretch came on shortly after the finish of the NASCAR XFINITY race. Remarkably, they came on again on Saturday night during the MENCS race. A mistake can happen and someone forgot to turn off the timer Friday; that is understandable. But it is unfathomable that someone didn’t immediately get onto the irrigation system to ensure it didn’t happen Saturday. Just a thought but the guy in charge of track operations might want to update his resume.

We’ve seen it before with first-time winners and drivers who win for the first time at a racetrack. Saturday night, we saw the driver who just won at Kentucky last year get lost on the way to Victory Lane. Mind you, Truex was directed there by supposed NASCAR officials, but you’d think that he would have remembered from last year. In his defense, the No. 78 car was overheating after the burnout and visibility was limited. But the visual of the race winner driving randomly around the infield of Kentucky Speedway was quite humorous.

The media has taken to calling Harvick, Kyle Busch and Truex the big three. It was never done in the past and it needs to stop. Richard Petty and David Pearson were not the big two. Neither was Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon. Nobody called Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison the big three. They’re having a great year and are worth talking about but they don’t need a pet name. Just appreciate their excellence this season.

Stage racing was implemented in 2017. Truex won all three stages at Kentucky that year. He backed it up again this year. Truex is the only driver to win a stage at Kentucky. He’s also pulled off the stage sweep more than any other driver. Kyle Busch has done it once, Harvick has done it twice but Truex has done it four times. The No. 78 team are masters at stage racing and are looking like they’re going to take full advantage of them the rest of 2018.

Who is mad

Alex Bowman has been on the cutline for making the MENCS playoffs most of the year. The No. 88 team took a chance on Saturday night by taking two tires on an early stop for track position entering stage two. The end result was that his right front tire failed, he knocked down the fence and took a huge hit in points. Bowman, on an island in the last spot, now has to be concerned about the thought of another driver winning and knocking him out of the playoffs.

AJ Allmendinger had a great run at Daytona but that did not translate to a good night in Kentucky. Allmendinger ended the night five laps down in 30th place. His teammate Chris Buescher was only one lap down, seven positions better in a tough night for JTG-Daugherty Racing. Allmendinger in particular seems to be struggling to find speed on the mile-and-a-half tracks. He’s yet to earn a top-15 finish on the cookie-cutter ovals this season.

Who is happy

Larson had a pretty fast race car Saturday night. The No. 42 Chevrolet was looking like he might be able to run to the front and challenge for the win despite starting from the rear after missing driver intros. Unfortunately, his track bar adjuster failed and it looked like the night might end horribly. But his Chip Ganassi Racing team developed a plan and took a big swing on its last pit stop. The Hail Mary worked and Larson managed to run up to a ninth-place finish.

Aric Almirola is still struggling to match the success that his SHR teammates have seen, but he continues to show moments of strength. Saturday night was another one of those nights when Almirola was strong after a poor qualifying effort. He soldiered on to an eighth-place finish. At this point, the stars have to align rather nicely for Almirola to score a win but he’s continuously getting better in his No. 10 ride.

When the checkered flag flew

  • Martin Truex Jr. won the Quaker State 400 in his 460th career Cup series start. This is Truex’s 19th career victory.
  • Truex has four triumphs in 2019, trailing only Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch (five apiece) for the series lead.
  • Truex has back-to-back wins at Kentucky Speedway (2017 & 2018).
  • On the all-time victory list, Truex is ranked 41st. He is tied with Davey Allison, Buddy Baker, Greg Biffle, Fonty Flock and Joey Logano.
  • Ryan Blaney crossed the line in second. It was Blaney’s best career finish at Kentucky and only top two of 2018.
  • Kentucky marked Blaney’s second career second-place finish, which ties him for 124th with 28 other drivers.
  • Brad Keselowski rounded out the podium at Kentucky. Keselowski has finished in the top three twice this season. It is Keselowski’s fourth career top three at Kentucky.
  • Keselowski has 63 career podium finishes which tie him with Geoffrey Bodine for 40th on the All-Time list.
  • William Byron finished 20th to claim Rookie of the Race honors. Byron has won the Rookie of the Race eleven times this year. Darrell Wallace Jr. has won it eight times.

Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Erik Jones are the seven race winners in 19 races this season. At this point, it is impossible for there to be more than 16 unique winners in the 2018 regular season. That means these seven are locked into the playoffs based on winning a race, assuming they attempt the remaining races in the regular season.

Here are the drivers who would qualify for the playoffs and their associated playoff points (race winners are bolded):

1) Kyle Busch30

2) Kevin Harvick – 27

3) Martin Truex Jr. – 25

4) Joey Logano – 7

5) Brad Keselowski – 4

6) Clint Bowyer10

7) Kurt Busch – 2

8) Kyle Larson – 0

9) Denny Hamlin – 2

10) Ryan Blaney – 4

11) Aric Almirola – 1

12) Jimmie Johnson – 0

13) Erik Jones – 5

14) Chase Elliott – 0

15) Alex Bowman – 0

18) Austin Dillon – 5

What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)

[poll id=”30″]

There are races that are snoozers and races that are walkovers with excitement. Saturday night’s race was full of strategy calls and on-track passes for the lead. While, in the end, it was a dominating performance by Truex, it was far from a snoozefest. We’ll give this one three cold Trackside Blondes from 3rd Turn Brewing.

Where do you point your DVR for next week

The changes to the schedule for 2018 resulted in New Hampshire Motor Speedway losing a race date. As a result, next weekend is its lone MENCS event of the season. Race coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app. You can listen to the race on your local PRN affiliate, www.goprn.com or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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Easiest solution to the sprinkler issue- get rid of the grass on the front stretch.
First, it’s a safety issue. Look back at many of the horrific crashes at places like Pocono and Talladega and grass only made the crashes worse.
In addition at many larger tracks, it has unnecessarily ended many a driver’s day after front splitter damage from otherwise innocuous spins.


guess the sprinkler control guy was where the rest of the butts that didn’t show up for the race.

i flipped on race at start, saw it was basically the same thing as previous weeks, so figured truex would win and found something more constructive to do with my time saturday evening.

yep i was right.

only chevy capable of doing anything always seems to have some kind of issue.


I think the sprinklers were supposed to go off in the parking lot to keep from burning up a bunch of race fan’s vehicles again this year.

Bill B

It speaks volumes that the biggest talking point from the race was the sprinkler system.

I agree with “The Big Three” deal. Annoying and stupid. By this time of the season there are always two or three drivers that have won multiple races. It might usually be 5-3-3 instead of 5-5-4 but it’s still not that big of a deal.


The habit of needing to hang some stupid name on everything has to stop!

Tom B

I agree totally. Also that winner interview at the finish line needs to end. It diminishes the victory circle interview. Even the drivers are bewildered a little about the double interview in a five minute span.


Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…..huh,..you mean there’s a race on. I checked in on the race once in a while. Surprise. Truex jr was leading. Little to no racing means fewer and fewer viewers. The death throes continue.


Now I truly understand once and for all why fans are leaving in droves…..what a terrible race…godawful.


is chevy on probation? the more nascar tries to take the car out of the picture the more its all about the car
truex won 6 races in 15 years now 11 in two years 7 time cant drive anymore !! good luck nascar………

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