NASCAR Barometer: Truex Wins His Second Round of 12 Race

NASCAR Barometer: Truex Wins His Second Round of 12 Race

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Martin Truex Jr. stormed through the pack to overcome an unscheduled stop and win his second race in the round of 12 at Kansas Speedway. The win further cements his status as the championship favorite, and he has a mere four races remaining to get that job done. He enters the round of eight as the top-seeded driver but will be looking to score a win that guarantees him a place among the final four title combatants at Homestead Miami Speedway.

Kyle Busch was the other driver likely to claim victory at Kansas, but a poorly timed caution caught him well down the running order just after he visited pit road. He was able to climb his way back into the top 10 by the finish, which was enough to see him through in the playoffs. Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Matt Kenseth were not as lucky, though. Their 2017 championship fights ended with the checkered flag. Among the most disappointed would be Larson and Kenseth. Larson started the season with such strength it seemed it was his destiny to make it to Miami, while Kenseth's fight ended due to a silly crew mistake. The eight drivers left standing leave those four behind
and focus their attention on Martinsville Speedway this week as the round of eight commences.

UPGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex worked hard to grab hold of momentum ahead of the next elimination round that begins next week at Martinsville Speedway. He hung out

Martin Truex Jr. stormed through the pack to overcome an unscheduled stop and win his second race in the round of 12 at Kansas Speedway. The win further cements his status as the championship favorite, and he has a mere four races remaining to get that job done. He enters the round of eight as the top-seeded driver but will be looking to score a win that guarantees him a place among the final four title combatants at Homestead Miami Speedway.

Kyle Busch was the other driver likely to claim victory at Kansas, but a poorly timed caution caught him well down the running order just after he visited pit road. He was able to climb his way back into the top 10 by the finish, which was enough to see him through in the playoffs. Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Matt Kenseth were not as lucky, though. Their 2017 championship fights ended with the checkered flag. Among the most disappointed would be Larson and Kenseth. Larson started the season with such strength it seemed it was his destiny to make it to Miami, while Kenseth's fight ended due to a silly crew mistake. The eight drivers left standing leave those four behind
and focus their attention on Martinsville Speedway this week as the round of eight commences.

UPGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex worked hard to grab hold of momentum ahead of the next elimination round that begins next week at Martinsville Speedway. He hung out his car on the ragged edge to capture the pole at Kansas and jumped out to the lead at the start. A loose wheel and an unscheduled stop in the second stage gave him some ground to recover, however. Still, he was able to find his way back to the front of the field and overtook Kyle Busch to lead some more laps on the afternoon and ultimately cruise home to victory, his second of the round. His championship charge continues onward, and he has two career top-fives at Martinsville and started on pole in this race last season.

Kyle Busch – Busch overcame his past nemesis in Kansas Speedway with an early stage victory on Sunday. The championship favorite entered the afternoon behind the cutoff for the playoffs but made swift work of adding some insurance points to his bank early in Sunday's race. He survived the early-race carnage, which enabled him to move into a more comfortable position in the playoff standings. He was in position to secure the win but got caught out on an ill-timed caution and subsequently finished 10th. Busch has a top Martinsville resume with one victory, 12 top-fives and 13 top-10s from 24 career starts. He was runner up to Brad Keselowski here earlier this season and is still the favorite to win this championship.

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin won the second stage of Sunday's race in a one-lap shootout. The team gambled to stay out on old tires at the end of that stage, which gave Hamlin the track position to hold onto the lead just long enough to capture the all-important bonus. A speeding penalty on pit road put him behind at the start of the final stage, however. The team overcame that adversity to score a top-five finish and advance in the playoffs. That round begins next week. Martinsville has been an excellent venue for Hamlin. He has five track wins in the series along with 17 top-10s from 23 starts. He stumbled there to finish 30th earlier this season, but that shouldn't dissuade fantasy owners from relying on him this week.

Chase Elliott – Without a victory and in just his second year in the series, Elliott finds himself among the final eight championship contenders this week at Martinsville by virtue of another clean performance at Kansas. What got Elliott to this point was consistency. The young driver has been among the most consistent all season despite not reaching the height of Victory Lane and another top finish last week propelled him ahead of four other championship contenders to advance. An example of this trait was his last visit to Martinsville. He started on the front row at the short track earlier this season and drove his car home to a third-place finish. He led 20 laps in that race and could be a valuable asset to fantasy rosters.

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson lost control twice in Sunday's race, but that wasn't enough to knock him out of the championship hunt. The first incident sent him sliding through the grass, creating some damage the team had to repair, and the second spin immediately followed upon the return to green. The team was forced to battle the five-minute clock NASCAR imposes for repairs on pit road, and the effort barely kept his playoff hopes alive. One more narrow miss on track enabled him to get the points he needed to remain in the fight as he battles for his eighth series title.Next week is a new opportunity for the No. 48, too. With nine Martinsville wins, it would not be a big surprise to see Johnson in Victory Lane and reverse the trouble that plagued him in Kansas.

DOWNGRADE

Kyle Larson – Engine trouble knocked Larson out of Sunday's race and out of the playoffs. The young driver started out the season with incredible momentum and had earned a seat among the title favorites but he didn't produce enough consistency to stay in the championship fight until the end. His crash last week at Talladega coupled with Sunday's trouble was emblematic of the nature of this format, and Larson fell afoul of it. He can still race for pride in the remaining four races, but with just one top finish from seven career starts at Martinsville, his redemption may have to wait another week. Larson's elimination is one of the more surprising turn of events as the championship fight marches on.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Contact with the outside wall put Stenhouse out of the championship hunt. The team gambled to gain track position at the end of the second stage, but it wasn't enough to compensate for the damage suffered later in the final stage of the afternoon. Stenhouse dropped well behind the cutoff for the playoffs, and his sensational season with two victories ended with elimination. Martinsville is the complete opposite of where Stenhouse found success this season. In fact, in nine career starts he has just one top-10 finish. However, that finish came earlier this season. While we've seen drivers have post-elimination surges, it would be against the run of play to expect Stenhouse to outperform this week.

Matt Kenseth – Kenseth had a golden ticket into the round of eight after Kyle Larson's engine failure, but a massive crash just before 200 laps were complete made his task more difficult. His team had to fix the damage and also finish inside the top 15 in order to remain in the championship battle, but they were parked after the team sent too many men over the pit wall to make repairs. His championship fight came to an end due to a brainless mistake by the crew. He has only a handful of races left to attract a ride for 2018. Unfortunately, he has yet to score a Martinsville win despite 35 career starts, and he's at rock bottom.

Jamie McMurray – McMurray was a playoff contender that faced a must-win situation to maintain his status as a championship protagonist, but it wasn't meant to be. He was caught out in Talladega, which gave him a mountain to climb last week at a track where he hadn't found success in the past. Things didn't pan out for him either. He was one of the cars caught in the biggest wreck of the race, which rubber-stamped his anticipated playoff exit. While his championship fight may be done, he can take solace in the fact that his team has made strides forward in competitiveness. If the organization can continue to build on its successes, McMurray should contend again in 2018.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Chris Buescher – Buescher finished sixth at Kansas to claim his fourth top-10 finish of the season in another impressive finish for him and his small team. Despite scoring a win last year to make it into the championship battle, this season has seen a bit more upside from the former NASCAR Xfinity series champion. He is with a new team that has been able to deliver better equipment more often than last season, and at times he can hold court among the best in the series. His pedigree is not one to question, but he has yet to drive the type of machinery that his rivals from the past have at their disposal. Fantasy owners must wonder what he would be capable of with a Hendrick Motorsports or Joe Gibbs Racing car at his control.

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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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