CONCORD, N.C. — Martin Truex Jr. gave Toyota yet another victory in NASCAR’s playoffs — the manufacturer is 4 for 4 so far — on a humid Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Kyle Busch, winner of the last two playoff races, wrecked early in the race yet completed it in a damaged race car. Complaining most of the 500-miles of being overheated, he needed immediate medical attention when he climbed from his car.
Busch laid in the grass, packs of ice were placed on his chest, and a stretcher was brought to him. Once he felt strong enough, he stood and walked to an ambulance. He received oxygen to treat a high carbon monoxide level.
"I felt like I was having a heat stroke," Busch said.
The humidity drained several drivers, including Truex, who had to catch his breath after taking his sixth victory of the season.
Truex has proven weekly he’s the driver to beat in this championship race, and did it again Sunday by working with his Furniture Row Racing team to steadily improve his car through the first two stages of the race. He wasn’t the strongest early — the first two stage victories went to Kevin Harvick, and Truex didn’t earn Stage 1 playoff points for the first time since July — but he was untouchable by the final segment.
He was at this point a year ago, too, but he had difficulties in the second round of the playoffs and was eliminated.
Not this time.
This statement victory ensured he’ll be in the third round of the playoffs. He choked back tears in victory lane in part because partner Sherry Pollex, who is battling ovarian cancer, was not at the track. She’s has a chemotherapy session scheduled Monday.
But he was also overwhelmed at what an incredible season he’s had.
Truex won in overtime after two late cautions created extra laps and forced Truex to hold off fellow Toyota driver Denny Hamlin on a pair of restarts.
Chase Elliott finished second for the second consecutive week and sixth time in his career. He nearly won for the first time in the Cup series a week ago, but Busch ran him down and passed him for the win with one lap to go.
Harvick was third and Hamlin finished fourth. Like his teammate Busch, Hamlin was drained after the race. His firesuit was soaked with sweat stains and he needed to eat a banana to recover.
Jamie McMurray was fifth, Jimmie Johnson seventh and Ryan Blaney eighth.
Kyle Larson was 10th, Matt Kenseth 11th, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 13th, Brad Keselowski 15th and Busch 29th.
PLAYOFF STANDINGS: The bottom four in the standings headed into Talladega are Kenseth, Keselowski, Blaney and Stenhouse. But, it could have been much worse for Stenhouse, who was all over the board Sunday until he solidly cracked the top-15 late in the race.
But, Stenhouse was busted for speeding on a late pit stop and had to restart 20th. He had to scramble in the closing laps to finish 13th.
"We thought if we could be 15th to 10th it would be a good day for us," he said. "It would be nice to run top-10 all race here, but we struggled up and down."
LARSON’S LONG DAY: His 10th-place finish gave no indication of how good Larson was at Charlotte. He seemed to be as good as Truex late in the race, but an awful pit stop — his tire carrier tripped and fell — dropped him to 12th. Larson still worked his way into the top-four, but he was hit by Kurt Busch late in the race and the damage took him out of contention for racing for the victory.
Earlier in the race, Larson missed his pit box and the gaffe knocked him to 31st in the field. But he clawed his way through traffic and had worked his way into the top five by the end of the first stage.
"I felt like we’ve been better than (Truex) the past two weeks," Larson said. "Last week was probably the first time in a long time he hasn’t been the most dominant. And then, he definitely wasn’t dominant today. I felt like I had a car to win. I made a mistake on pit road early. We rebounded from that. And then we had a costly mistake late and somewhat rebounded, but then those last two restarts didn’t go my way."
UP NEXT: Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway, where Stenhouse won in the spring. Stenhouse has won the last two restrictor-plate races this season.