KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Martin Truex Jr. didn’t need to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series elimination race Sunday at Kansas Speedway. Truex, the series points leader, was already locked into the playoffs’ Round of 8 that begins next week in Martinsville, Va.
Truex, Jr. takes Kansas
But Truex’s series-leading seventh win and second this season at Kansas was a mighty important lift to the morale of the Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Toyota team that learned of the death of Jim Watson, a fabricator for the team, on Saturday night. Watson, 55, died of a heart attack.
“We were definitely racing with heavy hearts today,” Truex said. “We said, ‘Let’s win this one for Jim.’ “He was a heck of a guy and a great worker and put a lot of speed in these Furniture Row Toyotas. So glad we could get him one here.”
Truex’s thoughts went to Watson as he sat in his car during a red-flag stoppage late in the race. “I was definitely thinking about Jim and his family,” Truex said. “It’s crazy how these things work out, but you just got to give your best effort all the time and never give up and just push as hard as you can all the time, and that’s what we did today and it worked.”
Truex, 37, will enter the third round with a 27-point lead over Kyle Busch, who finished 10th Sunday; and a 43-point lead over Brad Keselowski, who was 13th. Truex, bidding for his first championship, became the first driver to sweep both races at Kansas since the track went to two Cup races a year in 2013. Denver-based Furniture Row Racing is the only one in NASCAR not based in North Carolina and considers Kansas Speedway its home track.
“This feels really awesome,” Truex said. “It’s really Furniture Row’s home track. It just feels really good to finally get — to finally get another one here. We got that one in the spring after so many heartbreaks, and then today it looked like it was going to happen (again) and we just persevered.”
Truex beat non-playoff driver Kurt Busch to the checkered flag by 2.284 seconds. Ryan Blaney, in third, Chase Elliott, in fourth, and Hamlin, in fifth, advanced to the Round of 8 along with Kevin Harvick, who was eighth. Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, the seven-time and reigning series champion who finished 11th, and Keselowski, who, like Truex, was locked in by virtue of his win at Talladega Superspeedway, will also vie for the title. Truex’s seven wins this season are the most in a single season since Kenseth won seven times in 2013, and six of those wins have come on 1.5-mile tracks.