Entering Sunday’s Citizen Soldier 400, the last race in the opening round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the pressure was off Martin Truex Jr., having already earned a berth to the second round after victory in the Chase opener two weeks ago.
That didn’t stop Truex Jr. from dominating the Monster Mile on Sunday, leading the majority of the second half of the race on his way to taking the checkered flag by a large margin.
The top 10 finishers Sunday featured nine drivers who have punched their ticket to the Chase’s second round, including Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Austin Dillon and Denny Hamlin.
Those nine join Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick in the Round of 12.
Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray and Chris Buescher all saw their Chase hopes go up in smoke Sunday.
“This track has always been special to me, always been close to my heart,” said Truex Jr. after the victory Sunday. “I’ve had a lot of heartbreaks here, so today I’m just thankful to have a great team and get back to Victory Lane at a track that’s so special to me.”
While Truex Jr. led the majority of the way down the stretch, Jimmie Johnson squandered a huge opportunity at another win at the Monster Mile. The No. 48 car was penalized pitting on lap 279 when a crew-member left the wall early, knocking him out of the lead; Johnson finished seventh.
In total, Truex Jr. led 187 laps Sunday, finishing well ahead the rest of the top five, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth.
Truex Jr. wins for the fourth time this year, but just his second time at Dover since winning his first career race in 2007.
The second round of the Chase starts next Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with points for the remaining 12 drivers resetting.