LAS VEGAS – Martin Truex Jr. made it a clean sweep at NASCAR’s 20th annual Kobalt 400 Sunday at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the first driver to win all three segments in NASCAR Cup's new stage racing.
Truex won the first two stages and led most of the third stage before losing the lead late to Brad Keselowski, then taking it back with two laps to go, running just ahead of a last-lap wreck and that led to a fight between Kyle Busch and Joey Logano that left Busch's forehead bloodied in a wild finish.
“You drive your butt off every single lap,” said Truex. “We got a little bit lucky today. That’s why you fight to the end.”
As Truex dove low to pass Keselowski near the end of the 265th lap of the 267 lap race, something broke in Keselowski’s car and he faded fast, coasting across the finish line in fifth place.
“I don’t know what it was, I just know it was something major,” said Keselowski. “It wouldn’t turn and I lost brakes so that’s a pretty god indicator that something is wrong. It’s frustrating but you put yourself in a position to win and good things will happen. That happened last week (a win in Atlanta) and didn’t happen this week. You just pick up the pieces and move on. We’ve got a lot to be proud of.”
The drama was just beginning.
As Keselowski fought to control of his car, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Logano and Busch raced by, creating a traffic jam that led to Logano and Busch banging into each other.
Larson edged Elliott for second while banging fenders.
Just before the finish line, Logano slid up the track and into Busch, spinning Busch’s car.
Logano continued on to finish fourth.
But Busch ended up sliding across the finish line in 22nd place and their battle was far from over.
While Truex was doing the traditional winner’s burn-out, Busch got out of his car and went after Logano. A fight erupted with both pit crews in the scrum.
Busch was pulled out of the pile with a bloody forehead, apparently from having his head slammed into the pavement.
Logano maintained that Busch never got a punch in against him.
“There wasn’t much talking, Kyle was just swinging. I know some blows landed, but none to me,” said Logano. “Hitting his car wasn’t intentional."
Video replays showed that Busch got in the first punch before both crews got involved.
"I got dumped. He flat out just drove straight in the corner and wrecked me," Busch said. "That's how Joey races, so he's going to get it."
The altercation didn’t spoil Truex’s day.
“It was such a crazy day. The last couple of laps were great.” said Truex. “We had such a good car all day long and I felt like it slipped away from us there. The 2 car (Keselowski) got out front, and that least re-start, really thought we were going to run second. Got a little bit lucky with him having an issue and got the win.”
After Truex finished his post-race interview with reporters, one of his crew members brought a tablet up to the Media Center desk where they watched video of Busch’s post-race battle with Logano.
Since he was doing burnouts while the melee ensued, this was his first chance to see the brawl.
"I'm sure NASCAR is going to love that one," Truex said.
The action on the track was mostly a two-man race from the start.
Keselowski, the pole sitter, took the lead right from the start with Truex hot on his tailpipes.
He held the lead through the race’s first caution, when Corey Lajoie’s car started throwing flames and smoke.
Truex grabbed the lead on the re-start on lap 24, but Keselowski went right back in front one lap later, both holding position until the next caution on lap 70 of the 80 lap stage.
That’s when Kevin Harvick blew a tire on the frontstretch, lost control and slammed into the wall.
“I had a tire that started vibrating about four or five laps there before it blew and I was just trying to ride it until the end of the stage,” said Harvick. “Obviously, it didn’t make it.”
Everyone hit pit road and Joey Logano was the first racer back on the track.
It only took Truex three laps to race back into the lead and he powered his way second stage win of the day.
It took seven laps for everyone to pit, then re-set before getting the green light for the day’s final stage.
When the final stage in the race to the checkered flag took off on lap 167 of the 267 lap race around Las Vegas’ 1.5-mile oval, Truex looked like he put his No. 78 racer into cruise control, leading Keselowski through until the 202nd lap.
Jimmie Johnson was the only driver to stay out on the track when drivers headed to the pits from laps 202 through 212 and he was able to hold the lead until he finally pitted on lap 227.
Johnson was hoping there’d be a caution which would have allowed him to get in and out of the pits during the caution so he could keep the lead.
But when nothing happened, he finally had to pull off the track for gas and tires, and he settled for a 16th place finish.
And back came Truex – until the 243rd lap.
Hot on Truex’s heels, Keselowski finally got his chance to grab the lead, diving low on the track and slipping by on Turn One.
Truex kept pressing but it looked like Keselowski had the win in the bag until Keselowski’s car broke as Truex went by late in the 265th lap, then kept on pushing through the checkered flag.
There was no way the fight was going to spoil Truex's day.
It was Truex’s first win in Las Vegas and eighth overall in NASCAR’s signature Monster Energy Cup Series.