Martin Truex, Jr. hits the jackpot at Las Vegas, brawl followed between former teammates over last lap accident
Unreliable luck has become the norm for Martin Truex, Jr. since joining Furniture Row Racing in 2014.
Last season, Truex, Jr. earned a career-high four wins but engine problems, crashes and pit stop woes prevented him from being a championship contender.
Truex, Jr.’s caught a break this time at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday as he led a race-high 150 of 267 laps and became the first Cup driver to win all three stages under the new points format.
Truex, Jr. also earned a maximum of 60 points and gave Toyota its first win under the new Camry body.
With two laps to go, Truex, Jr. was battling Brad Keselowski side-by-side for half a lap until Truex, Jr. cleared him entering turn three.
Keselowski reported he brakes were gone from his No. 2 Miller Lite Ford, diminishing his chance of winning two straight races at Las Vegas. Keselowski finished fifth.
In an interview, Truex, Jr. said the win and Keselowski’s ill-brakes was a gift.
“We’ve been on the other side plenty of times and it’s the first one (the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota) ever had one come our way,” Truex, Jr. said. “We made a lot of changes Saturday night and said ‘let’s go for it’ and we did. First victory for the 2018 Camry out here on the west coast, so this is a big win for us.”
Truex, Jr. said the final stage was hard to hold off Keselowski.
“The race didn’t play into our hands when we had to go really long on the last set of tires,” Truex, Jr. said. “Brad was really good in the long runs all day and he was always catching me at the end. I had to stretch it and couldn’t keep him behind me but we got lucky. That’s why we never give up and fight until the end.”
A disappointed Keselowski said he tried to get out of the way from the leaders.
“I lost brakes and the car wouldn’t turn,” Keselowski said. “I probably caused the wreck but I couldn’t get out of the way and it just broke. It’s just how it goes.”
The accident Keselowski referenced took place on the final lap.
Kyle Busch and Joey Logano were battling for third as they passed Keselowski in the exit of turn two.
Busch entered the next turn in front of the Penske teammates but Logano’s momentum on the inside line gave Logano the advantage until he hit the apron.
Logano’s car snapped and ran into Busch, causing him to spin as Chase Elliott passed both drivers to finish third.
Keselowski, without brakes, regained momentum and battled his Penske teammate to the line for fourth. Logano eked out Keselowski by inches.
Busch kept the car off the pit wall and finished 22nd.
An angry Busch confronted Logano with a right-hand punch. Logano tried to avoid Busch as the No. 22 Pennzoil Ford team put Busch to the ground.
The fight continued as between Busch and Logano’s crew as Logano was restrained by a NASCAR official.
Finally, other NASCAR officials broke up the skirmish as Busch escaped with a gash on his forehead. Busch was checked and released from the in-field care center.
Logano said the incident was hard racing and never had any issues racing each other as the two were former Joe Gibbs Racing teammates from 2008-2012.
“Kyle and I usually race well together but he tried to pin me down into the corner,” Logano said. “We about crashed on entry and was still trying to gather it up by the center. I was going to spin out, so I was trying to chase it up and he was there. Nothing intentional but Kyle thinks so but we’ll move on.”
A bloodied Busch said Logano dumped him.
“Joey flat out just drove me straight into the corner and wrecked me,” Busch said. “That’s how Joey races, he’s going to get it.”
NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell said Monday the fight is under review but doesn’t expect to punish Busch and Logano.
“On track, I don’t think NASCAR saw anything intentional,” O’Donnell said. “Our intention would be not to react unless we see something that we haven’t seen yet and something that comes up from those discussions. We’ll certainly bring both drivers together before we go on track in Phoenix International Raceway and have further dialogue.”
O’Donnell added the fight was a reminder of how important track position means to a driver.
“It’s an emotional sport and it shows exactly how much every position means on the track,” O’Donnell said. “These weren’t two guys going for the win but going for top-10s but it shows how important it is in the sport.”
Busch sits 19th in the points standings, three spots behind Paul Menard who holds the final playoff spot.
Logano’s fourth place effort puts him fifth in points, 13 points behind teammate and new championship leader Brad Keselowski.
Keselowski gained the championship lead after Kevin Harvick cut a right front tire and hit the turn one wall. Harvick finished 38th and dropped to eighth in points.
The accident marked his first DNF at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The second leg of the west coast swing heads to Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona March 19.
Logano’s last win was at Phoenix Nov. 13, 2016 where he earned a berth in the Championship Four at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Truex, Jr. said the win meant a lot more for his race team because it’s the closest track to Denver, Colorado, site of Furniture Row Racing.
“These guys put in ton of work,” Truex, Jr. said. “We have a lot of truck drivers and parts going across the country all the time. Just real thankful that Barney Visser has assembled a team that he has and lets me drive his car. Guys didn’t have to arrive until Friday which is abnormal for them, so the next couple of weeks are a good spot for us.”