WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) — Martin Truex Jr. won a fuel-mileage gamble, holding off Matt Kenseth on the final lap to capture the NASCAR Cup race at Watkins Glen International on Sunday.
Brad Keselowski had a big lead but was forced to pit with three laps to go. That gave the lead to Ryan Blaney, who began to run dry and had to pit before taking the white flag.
Trailing by 3 seconds after saving fuel for several laps, Truex assumed the lead in his No. 78 Toyota and, despite a bobble and locking the brakes as Kenseth challenged on the last lap, won for the fourth time this season.
Rookie Daniel Suarez was third, followed by Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer. Pole-sitter Kyle Busch was seventh.
Four races — Michigan, Bristol, Darlington and Richmond — remain before the playoffs start.
Busch, who dominated qualifying earlier in the day, was the class of the field early and gained a big lead in the esses after the green flag dropped and dominated the first stage, leading all 20 laps. By the eighth time around the 2.45-mile circuit, Busch held a 3.4-second lead over Truex, while Keselowski in sixth was 10 seconds behind. It was Busch’s ninth stage win of the season.
Busch, who overcame a pit road penalty early in Saturday’s Xfinity race at The Glen and rallied to win, had to return to the pits after his first stop to check for a loose wheel and restarted 34th.
Chase Elliott assumed the top spot until he pitted nine laps later, giving the lead to Suarez, who barely held off Truex to win the second stage, the first of his rookie season.
“Hopefully, we can keep it up,” Suarez said over his radio.
Busch, meanwhile, worked his way through the field and was ninth at the end of the stage, in contention again.
On a restart halfway through the 90-lap race around the 2.45-mile layout, Truex took the lead from Suarez with a powerful move on the outside and pulled away to a lead of more than 4 seconds as Busch encountered more trouble. His No. 18 Toyota suffered damage after the restart when he made contact with Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford in the Inner Loop while racing for seventh.
Keselowski bounced into Busch and both slid off course. Keselowski stayed out, but an irate Busch pitted for four tires and voiced his displeasure over his radio.
Keselowski pitted a couple of laps later for tires, and when a caution flew he gained the top spot for the restart when much of the field pitted.
Truex, who ran up front most of the race, passed Bowyer for second on lap 61 and began to chase down the leader. He caught Keselowski three laps later, passing him on the final turn of lap 64, a sweeping right-hander leading onto the front straightaway.
But with fuel mileage coming into play, Truex started to slow his pace to save fuel, dropping back as Keselowski and Blaney drove past.
Undaunted by his bad luck, Busch rallied back again. He was up to eighth on lap 68 and was clocking some of the fastest times on the track despite a damaged front fender.
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