DOVER, Del. — Martin Truex Jr. won for the second time in the first three Chase for the Sprint Cup races Sunday at Dover International Speedway, his home track. But that wasn’t what will be remembered from the Citizen Soldier 400.
All eyes during the race were on the four positions in the standings which would be eliminated at the checkered flag, which marked the end of Round 1 and reduced the field from 16 drivers to 12. Those who missed the cut turned out to be Tony Stewart — a three-time champion who is in his final season — and both Chip Ganassi Racing drivers — Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray — along with longshot Chris Buescher.
Stewart already had a tough task entering the race as he was 11 points behind the cutoff. He never threatened to close that margin during the race and couldn’t break into the top 10 all day. And Buescher would only have advanced with a win.
But the Ganassi drivers had days which were much more difficult to take. Larson came into Dover holding the final spot in points, but he had an electrical problem which cost him a lap to repair on pit road. Then his team made a crucial error and had too many crewmen over the wall, which forced him to serve a penalty and made him lose two more laps. Later, he hit the wall with a flat tire and the day got even worse.
‘’I don’t know what happened with the battery or whatever," Larson said. "If we didn’t have the (penalty), we probably would have been alright because I was only a lap down. Nice little Christmas present for Austin (Dillon) there with both Ganassi cars going down." McMurray, participating in his second Chase in a row, moved into the final spot after his teammate Larson had problems. But that didn’t last long, because McMurray blew an engine just short of the halfway mark of the race and ended up finishing last.
"It's unfortunate that both the 42 (Larson) and the 1 (McMurray's car) had a problem today, but it is what it is," McMurray said. "That's why we race." Meanwhile, Dillon had one of the great races of his young career and earned a top-10 finish to put himself into the next round with room to spare.
In addition to Truex and Dillon, Kevin Harvick advanced to the next round despite a bad day on Sunday (he had a mechanical problem but was already through thanks to his win last week at New Hampshire), as did Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kurt Busch. Defending champion Kyle Busch and his three Joe Gibbs Racing teammates — Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin — made it to Round 2 as well.
Then there were the Team Penske drivers — Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano — and Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson, who was dominating the race until a penalty for crew members over the wall too soon. In addition to Dover, which was Truex's seventh career victory and fourth of the season, the Furniture Row Racing driver also won two weeks ago to open the Chase at Chicagoland Speedway.
"It's just amazing to drive these race cars," Truex said. "This is just unbelievable. Especially here; it's been considered a home track for me for a long time. "I've got to pinch myself. The last month-and-a-half has been ridiculous. It's been a fairytale."