Martin Truex Jr. takes playoffs opener in Las Vegas
By Rick Minter / Andrews McMeel Syndication
When NASCAR’s playoffs start, the sport’s top teams tend to rise to the occasion, and Sunday’s playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway continued the trend, as Martin Truex Jr. took the win in the South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and playoff drivers filled the top 10.
The bottom 10 also included a couple of playoff drivers, as Kurt Busch crashed and finished 39th, while Erik Jones was 36th after spending 15 laps in the garage to repair the transmission of his No. 20 Toyota.
Truex’s win was his fifth of the season, which tops all other drivers, and it was the third time in the past four years that he’s won the playoff opener.
Kevin Harvick took the runner-up spot over Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney.
Truex said the win, the 24th of his career, came at an opportune time.
“It’s huge … for a lot of reasons,” he said. “When we can get things to roll our way, not make any mistakes, this is what we can do. Great time with the playoffs starting to be able to do it.”
Kyle Busch had an uncharacteristically bad race. He entered the playoff opener as the points leader and fell two laps down at one point, after brushing the wall early in the race, but he took the wave-around on two occasions to get back on the lead lap and wound up 19th after another incident late in the race.
He blamed inexperienced drivers at the back of the pack.
“We’ve got guys that have never won Late Model races running out here,” he said of drivers Joey Gase and Garrett Smithley. “It’s pathetic.”
The two took issue with Busch on Twitter, saying if they had better equipment, they’d finish better.
Several playoff drivers, and others too, had to deal with tires cut due to contact with other drivers, especially on restarts.
Truex said he wasn’t surprised at the aggression on Sunday.
“I feel like, as you go through the race, every restart gets a little more crazy because everybody’s cars are getting a little more better dialed in, everybody is getting more confidence,” he said. “Usually the track, especially at a place like [Las Vegas] where it’s cooling down, the track is getting faster, you can be more aggressive.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Martin Truex Jr. (right) and his crew chief Cole Pearn are all smiles after coming from back in the pack to win the Cup circuit’s playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sunday night. Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR