A shredded tire almost ruined Martin Truex Jr.’s chances to win Sunday’s Sprint Cup Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway.
Then, when time was running out, another shredded tire came to the rescue.
Truex turned his good fortune, a great pit stop and a big blast of speed into his first career win at Chicagoland and an automatic berth in the next round of the Chase.
The best part?
“The next two weeks we don’t have to worry about flat tires or somebody running into us and wrecking us,” Truex said. “We don’t have to worry about the things we can’t control. All we have to focus on is going to the race track and continuing to do a great job.”
Five laps remained in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 when Michael McDowell limped into the pits with a flat and brought out a yellow flag.
At the time, Truex was running in second place, about a second behind rookie Chase Elliott. It didn’t appear that he was gaining.
Things changed after subsequent pit stops.
Truex’s pit crew got him back on the track first for a two-lap overtime dash to the finish. That allowed him to line up fourth behind Ryan Blaney, Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards — all of whom stayed out on old tires.
Truex took the high side and roared past Kahne and Blaney to take the lead. He beat Joey Logano to the line by 0.776 seconds. Elliott finished third.
It was quite a comeback for Truex, who had his own tire issue while running second on Lap 69. He returned to the track a lap down and in 21st place.
“The mind-set was, ‘All right, this isn’t good … how are we going to overcome it?’” Truex said with a smile. “We said, ‘OK, where are we at? Where is the leader? What do I need to do?’ I just kept pushing, kept my head down, kept digging.”
Elliott, meanwhile, saw what looked like a career-best moment unravel because of the yellow flag and a subpar pit stop.
“We’ve all watched this stuff long enough; we know these races don’t go green that long typically,” Elliott said. “We know that we see late-race cautions way more often than not. That’s a part of racing.
“You’ve just got to be ready for it, embrace it when it happens, suck it up and try to figure out how to make it happen after it does.”
Jimmie Johnson’s winless streak at Chicagoland Speedway continued. The six-time Cup Series champion led the race for 118 laps — many of them in dominant fashion.
After a pit stop Johnson was still in front on Lap 177 but developed handling issues. Elliott, who was hovering behind in second, made an aggressive move for the pass and quickly opened up more than a second lead.
Johnson fell out of contention on Lap 234 when he was assessed a speeding penalty exiting the pits.
Tony Stewart, who is retiring after this season, had a quiet final run at Chicagoland, running outside of the top 10 most of the race and finishing 16th.