Martin Truex Jr. kicked off his championship run strong with a win at the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 on Sunday.
The event at Chicagoland Speedway was the first competition in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, and with the victory, Truex clinched the first spot in the Round of 12.
NASCAR provided a look at the No. 78 car winning with ease:
Joey Logano benefited from a late caution, ending up in second place, while rookie Chase Elliott finished in third after leading for 75 laps, including most of the second half of the race.
Here is a look at the top finishers from Sunday's race:
|Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 Results|
|Place||Driver||Time Behind Leader (Seconds)|
|1||Martin Truex Jr.||-|
|NASCAR.com; Highlighted drivers are not in The Chase|
After the race, Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson both failed the Laser Inspection Station twice, according to Dustin Long of NBC Sports, adding both drivers are expected to be penalized. However, the infraction would be a P2 level, which would not impact Truex advancing to the next round, per Long.
Truex leads in the overall standings after the first of 10 races that will settle the title. Brad Keselowski, who finished in fifth place Sunday, is close behind:
|Sprint Cup Standings|
|1||Martin Truex Jr.||-|
He led for 21 laps before Truex made a strong move, as NASCAR on NBC showed:
There was controversy on a later passing, when Jimmie Johnson secured the lead after the caution flag came out, per Jeff Gluck of USA Today:
Kevin Harvick was just behind Johnson at the time, but the caution flag came out first, forcing the driver down the line.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway described the moment:
Johnson led the next 118 laps, with no one providing much of a challenge.
There wasn't a change until Lap 176, when another Hendrick Motorsports driver moved in front. Elliott secured the lead, and, aside from a quick one-lap lead for Tony Stewart, took control of the race.
As Chicagoland Speedway noted, Elliott's team felt good at the time:
The No. 48 car eventually fell further behind after being penalized for speeding on pit road.
Dustin Long of NBC Sports noted this has become a trend:
That opened up an opportunity for Truex to move into second place before the homestretch. Elliott still led Truex by almost two seconds until a caution flag came out with only five laps to go, putting pressure on the pit stops before the three overtime laps.
This change on pit road became the difference, via NASCAR on NBC:
Truex came back with fresh tires and was able to secure his position on the restart to pull away for the victory.
The Chase continues at New Hampshire Motor Speedway next Sunday before heading to Dover International Speedway on Oct. 2. After those two events, the bottom four drivers will drop out of the competition, and only 12 will remain.
There is still a lot of time to make up ground, but those on the bubble will have to come up big in the next two events to stay alive in the hunt for the championship.
This win certainly didn't come easy for Truex, although he isn't ready to rest one week into the Chase.
"The racing gods don't want us leading too much; they have to make it difficult," Truex said after the race, per Gluck. "This feels good. We got more races to win, and we can win some. This is the way we wanted to start it off. It feels awesome."
He also thanked just about everyone he could name after the win:
We are a long way from the Sprint Cup finale, but Truex is certainly in good shape after the first Chase event.
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