WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — How the I Love New York 355 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International Raceway played out:
WINNER: Martin Truex Jr. earned his fourth victory of the season, holding off Matt Kenseth Sunday to win for the first time at the New York road course.
Truex, the Cup Series points leader, let a few cars pass him during the final stage and slowed his lap times down considerably in an effort to save maximum fuel to make it to the checkered flag. His strategy payed off as other front runners were forced to hit pit road for a splash of gas to finish the race.
“It’s so stressful to let guys go by you for the lead; I’ve never had to do that before,” Truex said. “I’ve wanted to win here a long, long time; it’s a special place and a big one for our team.
“I’m kind of speechless. I didn’t think it would play out, I’m a little bit dumbfounded.”
Daniel Suarez finished third, followed by Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer. Kurt Busch came home sixth, followed by younger brother Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney, AJ Allmendinger and Erik Jones.
PHOTOS: MARTIN TRUEX JR. THROUGH THE YEARS
STAGE ONE: Pole-sitter Kyle Busch led every lap in the first 20-lap stage to pick up his ninth of stage win of the season and his 14 playoff point. Drivers are awarded one point per stage win to be used throughout the playoffs. The top 10 drivers in each stage are awarded race points in descending order from 10 through one.
Truex was second, followed by Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano, Allmendinger, Kasey Kahne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Busch restarted the second stage 16th though after making an extra pit stop where it was discovered a lug nut had jammed between the brake caliper and left front wheel.
STAGE TWO: Suarez, a Joe Gibbs Racing rookie, won his first stage of the season, blocking hard-charging points leader Truex as the caution was issued on Lap 40. Kenseth was third, followed by Jones, Hamlin, Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch and Allmendinger. Suarez had previously collected just four stage points this season.
ROAD TO RUIN: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last race as a full-time Cup performer at Watkins Glen ended after 22 laps with a 37th-place finish. Down on power early in the race, he was forced to the garage with what the team described as a potential valve train problem. He’s finished 30th or worse in nine of 22 races this season.
“We changed this car inside and out twice this weekend,” Earnhardt said, noting he had realistically hoped for a top-20 finish. “It’s been a really difficult week. We’ve been way down on speed and we had a pretty good car at Sonoma, so I was kind of looking forward to coming here.
“I sure have enjoyed racing here and really appreciate the fans here; and the track and the staff. They’ve treated us so good every time we’ve been here, so it’s been a blessing.”
TOUGH START: Seven cars were sent to the rear to start the race because of unapproved adjustments. Among them were defending race-winner Hamlin and Bowyer. Hamlin entered qualified for the playoffs as a race-winner while Bowyer was outside the points transfer boundary.
PREGNANT PAUSE: Regan Smith was at the track to replace Hamlin if the Joe Gibbs Racing driver needed to leave to attend girlfriend Jordan Fish upon the birth of their second child.
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PHOTOS: 2017 NASCAR CUP SERIES RACE WINNERS