Each week NASCAR Editor David Morgan will break down who’s hot and who’s not after the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race weekend. Today, we break down the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Martin Truex, Jr. – The wins just keep on coming for Truex and Furniture Row Racing. 2017 has been a career year for the No. 78 team and Truex added another victory to the win column on Sunday at Charlotte.
Truex may not have had the best qualifying effort as he rolled off 17th, but give him and crew chief Cole Pearn time to dial in their car and they’re nearly unstoppable. On Sunday, that’s exactly what happened.
By the end of the second stage, Truex had climbed to the top-five and from that point on he never looked back, taking the lead for the first time on lap 234 and leading all but 13 of the final 104 laps en route to his sixth win of the season.
“Unbelievable win,” said Truex. “Just a total team effort. Every single guy – every guy on this team just did a perfect job today and I can’t be more proud of them and at this time of the year is just when you want it to happen. You dream about days like today. I don’t know if we had the best car, but we damn sure go it in victory lane.”
“I’m so lucky to get to do this and I don’t know, it’s just one of those weekends – lot of pressure. We qualified horribly and I was mad about it. Cole (Pearn, crew chief) was mad about it and twenty minutes we’re like alright, I think this is where we went wrong. And he’s like yeah, that’s where we went wrong. We screwed up, we’ll get them Sunday. Just thankful to him and this whole team and Barney (Visser, owner) and everybody for giving us everything we need.”
Truex now is assured a place in the Round of 8 and while the rest of the playoff drivers are fretting over the uncertainty Talladega brings, he can breathe easy knowing he is guaranteed to move on in the playoffs.
Chase Elliott – A week after a heartbreaking second place finish at Dover, many wondered how the driver of the No. 24 car would rebound at Charlotte. Elliott didn’t let the disappointment from last week influence his performance on Sunday as he ran in the top-five throughout the duration of the 500-mile event.
Elliott would finish both the first and second stage in second place, and tried to give race winner Truex a run for his money at the end of the race, but Truex’s Toyota was just too strong as he pulled away for the win, leaving Elliott to finish as the runner-up for the fourth time this season and the third time in the last four weeks.
Leaving Charlotte, Elliott sits fourth in points and has a 16 point gap over the elimination cut-off as Talladega looms large next weekend.
“We needed to be a little better I think in the middle stage and not lose so much track position,” said Elliott. “That was where Martin (Truex, Jr.) came on and got his track position and we lost ours and it was just hard to get all of it back there toward the end. It was a hard-fought day and really, from where we were in those middle stages, I was proud of the way we fought back and were able to get back to the front. It’s frustrating to run like this. We’re definitely tired of running second. But, if we keep running like we are, hopefully the opportunities will be there.”
Jamie McMurray – McMurray continues to show that he plans on being in the playoffs for the long run, scoring a fifth place finish at Charlotte, his best finish since Michigan in June.
Charlotte has been good to McMurray over the years and it was the track that provided him with his first Cup Series win back in 2002. 15 years later, McMurray is still going strong.
Starting in 18th, McMurray had his work cut out for him, but with a stout Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet under him, he was able to climb to third by the end of the first stage and 10th at the end of the second stage. Once he was in the top-10, he never left, even leading for four laps under the stage 1 break.
When the checkered flag flew, he was back inside the top-five, kicking off the Round of 12 on a high note.
Though he entered Charlotte below the cut-off line, his strong run Sunday leaves McMurray in the eighth and final transfer spot heading to Talladega with a one point advantage over Matt Kenseth in ninth.
“We had such a good car at the beginning and you knew the race track was going to change as the substance wore off,” said McMurray. “We just were so good at the beginning in that sticky stuff. We were still good at the end, it is just man, it was all about getting in the right lane on the restarts. We had awesome pit stops, I’m so proud of those guys, they have turned their year around. We honestly, had the best pit crew on pit road today. But, it was good day, stage points in both stages, good top five finish. Long day, it was super humid and I think it’s really hard to explain to people how sticky it is out there today. It was super-hot.”
Kyle Busch – Entering Charlotte Motor Speedway as one of the favorites to move on in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, the path forward for Kyle Busch isn’t looking quite as certain after several encounters with the wall that left him with a 29th place finish and took a big bite out of his points advantage over the cut-off line.
Busch would start the day in fourth place and led 22 laps, finishing the first stage in fifth place, but at lap 137 things started to go awry for the No. 18 team after contact with the Turn 3 wall caused major damage to the right-rear of his car and forced him to pit road for repairs.
After that incident, the rest of the race just wasn’t the same for Busch as he was just trying to limp home, but still found the wall twice more on lap 280 and 327 to damage the car even further.
In the end, Busch would be six laps down to the leaders at the finish, but the turmoil wasn’t quite over for the 2015 Cup Series champion as his damaged Toyota had led to heat exhaustion and carbon monoxide issues in the cockpit. Once he made it to pit road after the race, Busch exited his car and immediately went and laid down on the infield turf before being attended to by the track’s medical staff.
Busch would be taken to the Infield Care Center, where he was eventually checked and released 45 minutes later after getting fluids and his body cooled back down to normal.
With his issues on Sunday, Busch now has just 12 points over the final cut-off spot heading to second race in the Round of 12 at the always unpredictable Talladega Superspeedway next Sunday afternoon.
“I’m alright, I’m better now,” said Busch after leaving the care center. “I got heat soaked and felt like I had heat stroke just from being inside the race car for 200 laps with the crush panels knocked out of it.
“Obviously, it was my bad, just trying to get a little too much too early in the race and got too high out of the groove and got myself into the fence and tore the right side off of it. My guys did a great job trying to rebound and get it back together as much as we could throughout the day. It was just evil out there the rest of the day trying to stay with a relative pace with the rest of the field. We were just kind of hanging on with our Interstate Batteries Camry. After I first tore it up, it was just a handful from there.
“Literally as soon as I did it, just coasting around under caution I could feel it being about 50 degrees hotter inside the car. It just got so hot that you literally felt like you were going to puke and just trying to make it to the end of the race and luckily we did. From there, just trying to get cooled down and get body temperature back to normal.”
Jimmie Johnson – Johnson may have finished Sunday’s race in seventh place, but a pit road miscue late in the race kept him from ending the day even further up the running order and he now sits on the brink of elimination heading to Talladega.
After starting back in 25th, the worst of the playoff drivers, Johnson eventually worked his way up into the top-five, but when the leaders hit pit road on lap 284, things went awry for the No. 48 team. As Johnson began to pull away from his pit box, his pit crew noticed a lug nut missing, forcing Johnson to jam on the brakes and stop long enough for the lug nut to be installed, dropping him all the way back to 16th on the ensuing restart.
Johnson would drive back up to seventh at the finish, but leaves Charlotte seventh in points, just eight points ahead of the cut-off spot; A very precarious position for the seven-time champion to find himself in going forward.
“It was okay,” said Johnson. “We worked our way up to fourth and then had a little miscue on pit road and restarted 16th or something and got back up to seventh. Decent progress, the car was not easy to drive and not fun to drive, but my conditions were a lot better than the other guys and I could work my way back up through there.”
Brad Keselowski – Charlotte has not been kind to the 2012 Cup Series champion this season, with a crash in the Coca-Cola 600 and a lackluster performance in Sunday’s race on the 1.5 mile track.
After starting in sixth place, Keselowski fought an ill-handling car throughout the day, falling outside the top-10 by the end of the first stage and never recovering. He would finish stage 1 in 14th, stage 2 in 13th, and finished the race in 14th.
His finish now leaves him on the outside looking in as he sits 10th in points, two points out of the final transfer spot. Luckily for Keselowski, Talladega is next weekend and he has four wins at the track. Although, last year, it was Talladega that eliminated him from the playoffs.
“It wasn’t the day we wanted for the Team Penske, Alliance Truck Parts Ford, so we’ve got two races left to go and we need to have two strong races,” said Keselowski.
“It seems like Charlotte and Kansas we have just not been able to connect what we’re looking for here the last two fall races. Hopefully, we can go to Talladega and connect with what we’re looking for.”