The Round of 12 began on Sunday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway with the Bank of America 500. The final fall race on the track’s 1.5-mile oval, 12 drivers remained in championship contention. After Kevin Harvick led much of the race, Martin Truex Jr. continued to prove why he is the premier driver as he recorded his sixth win of the season.
In the week leading up to the race, NASCAR added PJ1 to the track’s surface to increase grip, but it was improperly applied to turn four. During Friday practice, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, and David Ragan all slid in the turn and hit the wall; Earnhardt and Busch had to change to their backup cars for the race. Weather also played a factor in the weekend as Hurricane Nate led to rain in the area, postponing Saturday’s Xfinity race to the evening.
When it comes to polesitters in 2017, Truex and Busch has dominated the category, but for the Bank of America 500, a new pair of Toyota drivers led the field to green: Denny Hamlin won his first pole of the season and second at Charlotte, and started alongside Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth. During pace laps, 1999 champion and NBC commentator Dale Jarrett paced the field in his title-winning Ford Credit #88 car in tribute to late team owner Robert Yates.
When the green flag waved, Hamlin took off as Kenseth had a slow start, falling to 6th by lap two. Kenseth’s drop allowed Harvick and Chase Elliott to occupy 2nd and 3rd, respectively. The competition caution came out on lap 35; Kyle Larson did not take tires on his stop and won the race off pit road, but eventually returned to change his tires. Hamlin led the restart on lap 41 before Elliott became the leader a lap later. On lap 45, Clint Bowyer hit the wall while racing Ryan Newman off turn two, causing the #14 to hit the #31 and send Newman into a spin; Newman hit the inside wall, causing his car to catch fire.
Elliott and Harvick led the grid to the restart on lap 52, though the latter claimed the lead in a run entering turn four. After his pit error during the competition caution, Larson was able to rebound and enter the top five by lap 75. Harvick would go on to win the stage; Elliott, Jamie McMurray, Larson, Ky. Busch, Hamlin, Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Daniel Suárez, and Jimmie Johnson followed.
McMurray and Ky. Busch became the new leaders for the Stage #2 start, while Harvick and Elliott lost two and four spots on pit road, respectively. Stage #2 commenced on lap 98 as Busch led the way, while Harvick and Larson passed McMurray. The caution came out on lap 117 when Michael McDowell spun, with another restart taking place four laps later.
On lap 137, Ky. Busch suffered damage to his right rear, which began to emit smoke as the caution flag was waved. Busch was able to get part of the damage fixed within the five-minute crash clock and make minimum speed on time to continue racing. Harvick and Kenseth comprised the front row for the lap 141 restart, while Busch dropped out of the top 30 and went a lap down, forced to turn laps as his crew prepared to make further repairs.
By the end of Stage #2, another Harvick/Elliott 1–2 took place, with Kenseth, Truex, Ku. Busch, Hamlin, Larson, Johnson, Ryan Blaney, and McMurray behind them. Truex joined Harvick for the start of the final stage on lap 186.
On lap 220, Ky. Busch hit the wall yet again and went to pit road as green flag stops began. Truex defeated Harvick on pit road, putting him in prime position to take the lead upon the cycle’s completion, with Hamlin leading laps until then. Danica Patrick was penalized for her jackman going over the wall too soon, resulting in a pass-through. Once Hamlin pitted, Truex formally became the new leader. As the remaining laps shrunk into the double digits, Larson mounted a charge on Truex.
Patrick’s day worsened when she was involved in a crash with David Ragan on lap 267, who spun in the turn and collided with her. Larson became the leader for the restart on lap 270 and quickly pulled away. Nine laps later, Ky. Busch once again brought out the caution when he spun. While Truex was once again on the front row for the restart, Larson dropped out of the top ten after a slow stop in which his rear tire carrier fell. Johnson also saw a frustrating stop when he left his pit box with the wheel gun still attached to his car, forcing him to return to his stall to get it removed before he could leave. As a result of Larson’s fall, Harvick joined Truex in the top two spots for the lap 283 restart, while Larson restarted in 13th.
Truex led Harvick and remained in the position for the remainder of the race. With nine laps remaining, Busch was once again responsible for a yellow flag as he hit the wall. This set up a late restart with four to go, which lasted just two laps before the other Busch brother spun in turn one, making contact with Larson.
Now in overtime, Truex saw little opposition as he drove off to his sixth win of the season, continuing his successful run on 1.5-mile tracks. Elliott finished 2nd, followed by Harvick, Hamlin, McMurray, Suárez, Johnson, Blaney, Kahne, and Larson. Kenseth (11th), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (13th), Brad Keselowski (15th), and Ky. Busch (29th) were the playoff drivers who did not finish inside the top ten.
After the race, Busch parked his car near the synthetic infield turf, exited the car, and requested medical attention as he laid down. He was treated at the infield care center, where he received oxygen and was cooled down.
“In care center kyle getting oxygen and cooled down. Says he feels better. He is talking to Coach now.” – @SamanthaBusch
The win is Truex’s fifth of the season at a 1.5-mile track and second of the playoffs. In four playoff races in 2017, he has finished in the top five in every event. Truex’s girlfriend Sherry Pollex, who was not present at the track, celebrated the win on Twitter by tweeting, “Well that was tough to watch. But I’m cheering you on from home babe! Chemo Monday, victory lane Sunday 🏁🙌 love you MTJ 😍❤️ #TruexJr”.
“It was tough out there today,” Truex stated. “The car was a handful.”
Next week, the Cup Series travels to a restrictor plate track for the fourth and final time in 2017: Talladega Superspeedway. While plate tracks are known to be unpredictable, playoff driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is considered a favorite, having won the two previous plate races. Joey Logano is the defending race winner.
Featured image by CIA Stock Photo