NASCAR Barometer: Truex Captures First Chase Win

NASCAR Barometer: Truex Captures First Chase Win

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Martin Truex Jr. capitalized on a NASCAR overtime finish Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway to guarantee his advancement to the next round of the Chase for the Championship. The race came counter to the late dominance of Chase Elliott, but the final pit stop to gain track position was what made the difference between Truex's top finish and Elliott's third-place run. Joey Logano took advantage of the late-race shuffle to come home second, while Chase contenders Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson stumbled in the first race out of the gate.

Two races remain in the first round of the Chase, with the next one coming this week at New Hampshire International Speedway. Matt Kenseth won at the track earlier this season, but the northeastern oval has been a venue where Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske Racing have dominated recently. The two teams have accounted for every victory at the track since 2009.

UPGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex entered Sunday's race in Chicago as co-favorite with Kyle Busch. The victory would have been the perfect start to the No. 78's Chase effort after such a remarkable season filled with both highs and lows. The dominant win he experienced in Charlotte wasn't what we saw in Chicago, however. Truex was closing in on the final laps, and a late caution enabled him to have one final chance on a restart. He seized that opportunity and scored the win to advance. Truex has just one top-10 finish in the last five New Hampshire

Martin Truex Jr. capitalized on a NASCAR overtime finish Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway to guarantee his advancement to the next round of the Chase for the Championship. The race came counter to the late dominance of Chase Elliott, but the final pit stop to gain track position was what made the difference between Truex's top finish and Elliott's third-place run. Joey Logano took advantage of the late-race shuffle to come home second, while Chase contenders Kevin Harvick and Kyle Larson stumbled in the first race out of the gate.

Two races remain in the first round of the Chase, with the next one coming this week at New Hampshire International Speedway. Matt Kenseth won at the track earlier this season, but the northeastern oval has been a venue where Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske Racing have dominated recently. The two teams have accounted for every victory at the track since 2009.

UPGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex entered Sunday's race in Chicago as co-favorite with Kyle Busch. The victory would have been the perfect start to the No. 78's Chase effort after such a remarkable season filled with both highs and lows. The dominant win he experienced in Charlotte wasn't what we saw in Chicago, however. Truex was closing in on the final laps, and a late caution enabled him to have one final chance on a restart. He seized that opportunity and scored the win to advance. Truex has just one top-10 finish in the last five New Hampshire races, and his ability to continue advancing in this Chase will be there as long as the team maintains the strength and consistency they demonstrated in Chicago.

Chase Elliott – In his first appearance in the Chase in his first Sprint Cup season, Elliott looked like a seasoned veteran. It wasn't any different than what this young driver has shown for much of the 2016 season, however. He has been one of the most consistent and mature rookies in the series and continues to grow into the shoes Jeff Gordon left for him in the No. 24 machine. Were it not for a late caution, Elliott might have been celebrating his first win in the series and a guaranteed spot in the next round of the Chase. Instead, he now must focus on coming through next week in New Hampshire. Elliott's only Sprint Cup start at New Hampshire saw him start inside the top 10 but finish in 34th position.

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski carried the banner for Penske Racing on Sunday despite being passed by teammate Joey Logano in the final laps. He put the No. 2 machine inside the top five for nearly all of Sunday's 400 miles, and appeared to be on par with both Joe Gibbs Racing's Toyota's and Hendrick Motorsport's Chevrolets. The Penske team continues to reserve its strongest moments for races when results matter the most. Keselowski won in New Hampshire in 2014 and has led at least one lap in each of the last 10 races at the track. He also has three top-10s from the last five races there but finished 15th at the track earlier this season.

Jimmie Johnson – It's no secret that the No. 48 team has been in a prolonged slump heading into the start of this season's Chase. Strong practice sessions and leading the field in the first half of Sunday's race may have signaled an end to the doldrums, however. All of that news was positive until Johnson was caught speeding on pit road in his final stop. The misstep cost the team heavily, and Johnson only managed to recover for a 12th-place finish. The infraction put him too far behind with too few laps remaining to capitalize on his otherwise strong afternoon in Chicago. Johnson has three New Hampshire wins to his credit but just two top-10 finishes in the last five races there.

Joey Logano – Logano may not have been the most dominant of the Penske Racing teammates in Chicago, but he leveraged the circumstances afforded him to come home second behind Truex. Keselowski largely overshadowed his Penske Racing teammate throughout the weekend in Chicago, but Logano's tenacity enabled him to walk away from an otherwise difficult weekend with a top finish ahead of the No. 2 driver. The runner-up result gives Logano a solid foundation to advance to the next round of the Chase, and right now that's the most important result for this team as they seek a championship. Things look even brighter for Logano in New Hampshire where he has two wins and four consecutive top-five finishes heading into this week's race.

DOWNGRADE

Kyle Larson – A funny feeling in the front of the car led Larson to an unscheduled pit stop late in Sunday's race in Chicago, which was a good thing since the team learned afterward that the tire was shredded. However, It was bad news for the team's hopes in the Chase. His 18th-place finish was a disappointing payoff for an otherwise excellent weekend. The driver, who picked up his first win just a few weeks ago, led most of the practice sessions on the weekend but was unable to make his practice speeds translate to victory on Sunday. Larson has two top-five finishes at New Hampshire but finished outside of the top 15 in each of the last three races at the track.

Kyle Busch – Mistakes on pit road can destroy a weekend, and Busch was the victim of speeding on pit road last week in Chicago. The defending champion didn't have the best start to his effort to repeat as champion due to the infraction but did get somewhat of a positive bump when a late caution enabled him to work his way back inside the top 10 for an eighth-place finish on Sunday. Busch does have two New Hampshire wins on his resume, however. He also led 133 laps at the track earlier this season before finishing eighth. That race marked his sixth top-10 finish in the last seven races at the track. He will need another top New Hampshire performance to erase the Chicago mistakes.

Matt Kenseth – A speeding penalty on pit road put Kenseth behind relatively early in Sunday's Chicagoland race. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver hadn't been the fastest of his teammates throughout the weekend, and the penalty piled more misery on top of his weekend struggles. Still, like teammate Kyle Busch, a late race caution period enabled the team to pick up a few more positions than they probably deserved. The team finished ninth in the first race of the Chase, and will now look to capitalize on the good fortune afforded them last week. Kenseth does have three wins at New Hampshire. He won three of the last six races at the track, and two of those victories were in the last two races there.

Chris Buescher – Buescher is in the Chase because of fortunate circumstances. The team has been off pace to the leaders in every race this season, and continues to be behind the other 15 competitors fighting for the championship. While the criticism isn't of Buescher and his abilities; the team simply doesn't have the resources to contend for a championship. His 28th-place finish in Chicago gives him a mountain to climb in the next two races if he wants to pull off another stunner to advance in the Chase. Instead, fans are likely looking at Buescher being eliminated as predicted in the first round. His lone New Hampshire Sprint Cup start ended in a 29th-place finish, which was expected and nowhere near where it needs to be.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Kevin Harvick – Chicago turned out to be an awfully disappointing weekend for Harvick and his hopes of earning a second championship in three seasons. He has two races remaining to recover the ground he lost on Sunday with his 20th-place finish. Speed wasn't apparent for the team early in Chicago, but the former champion continued to battle forward early in Sunday's race. It wasn't meant to be, though. Harvick now finds himself within the danger zone of being knocked out in the first round of this season's Chase eliminations. This team needs to turn things around immediately in New Hampshire, where Harvick has one win and three top-five finishes in the last five races at the northeastern oval.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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