That was Martin Truex Jr.’s message Saturday when he pulled into Victory Lane at Kansas Speedway as the winner of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Go Bowling 400.
After showing the dominant car on long runs throughout the race, Truex endured two nerve-testing restarts in the final five laps to exorcise his demons at Kansas, which the No. 78 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota team considers its home track.
Truex took the lead with 19 laps remaining and was pulling away before the late-race cautions — including the track record-tying 15th overall — kept stacking up the field on his bumper.
“I knew if I didn’t come out of those restarts with the lead, I probably wasn’t going to win,” Truex said. “Our car was really fast, but if we didn’t get the lead on the restarts, it probably took us at least 20 laps to get good enough to pass those guys for the lead. The leader had a huge advantage tonight, so to get the lead on those restarts was big. That was going to be the race, and luckily we were able to make it happen.”
Truex, who owns nine career Cup victories and led a race-high 104 laps, battled for the lead throughout the night with stage winners Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney, who won the pole for the race.
But there was no catching Truex after his gutsy pass off a restart with 19 laps left.
Truex’s Furniture Row Racing teammate, Erik Jones, led the field back to the green flag alongside Blaney after opting not to pit with the leaders.
On fresher tires, Blaney easily pulled past Jones into the lead, but Truex also surged forward before dekeing low and slipping back up the track to squeeze between Blaney and Jones for the lead.
“Blaney was blocking pretty good, but I just had enough momentum and time that I could get to his other side when he blocked low,” Truex said. “Those moments, you know what you need to do, and you try to do the best you can do.”
Truex’s ever-widening lead evaporated with eight laps remaining when Jones’ third spin on the night brought out the penultimate caution, raising the specter that a teammate’s misfortune might lead to more bad luck at Kansas.
“I’m like, ‘Damn, Erik, come on now. Your teammate is leading the race. Don’t be causing cautions,’ ” Truex said. “I mean, I was gone. … Lucky for Erik, I didn’t screw up the last couple of restarts.”
Off the ensuing restart, Jimmie Johnson spun after contact with Denny Hamlin, who had been bumped by Kurt Busch, to set up one final restart with two laps remaining.
“It was really whoever got in front and got the lead at that point, and (Truex) was really fast in that little final stage,” said Blaney, who settled for fourth. “That was the deciding factor for sure.”
Unfortunately, the win was overshadowed by a scary accident that left Aric Almirola hospitalized.
“It’s a dangerous sport — always has been, always will be,” said Brad Keselowski, who finished second behind Truex. “Sometimes we forget that and maybe take for granted that you see real hard hits and people walk away. Then, when you see one where someone doesn’t, it puts things into perspective just how dangerous it can be.”
Almirola was involved in a three-car wreck with Joey Logano and Danica Patrick with 67 laps remaining.
It started when Logano lost control after the right front brake rotor blew, sending the No. 22 AAA Insurance Ford careening into Patrick.
That sent her No. 10 Wonder Woman/One Cure Ford into the wall nose-first as it burst into flames.
Behind the initial wreck, Almirola’s car lost traction going through the debris and plowed into Logano hard enough to lift the back end of Almirola’s No. 43 Smithfield Ford several feet off the ground as fireballs shot from both cars.
Logano and Patrick were quickly evaluated and released from the infield care center, but the roof of Almirola’s car had to be peeled back to extract him from the car.
The race was red-flagged shortly after the wreck happened at 9:23 p.m., and green-flag racing resumed at 9:59 p.m.
“That’s the worst,” Truex said. “You never want to see it. Aric is a friend of mine. He volunteered to be in our fashion show this week, Catwalk For a Cause, our big foundation fundraiser. He and his wife, great people, family guy, and just such a nice family and such a nice guy. I was really scared when I saw that and worried for him, obviously.”
Richard Petty Motorsports announced early Sunday morning that Almirola was in stable condition and would be held overnight for further observation.
While his thoughts were with Almirola, Truex, who also won in March at Las Vegas to lock himself into the playoff field, celebrated moving past the bad luck that’s plagued him at Kansas.
During last spring’s race, Truex led a race-high 172 laps before a late-race broken bolt ruined his chance at the checkered flag.
Truex led a race-best 95 laps during the spring 2015 race before a pit-road gamble — taking fuel but no tires — didn’t pay off.
Three years earlier, during the spring 2012 race, Truex led a race-high 173 laps but a late-race change in track conditions allowed Denny Hamlin to reach the finish line first.
“It does, I’m not going to lie to you,” said Truex when asked if the past issues made Saturday’s win sweeter. “As a racer, you don’t forget … those days that one got away or you screwed up and gave one away or anything like that. You never forget those things. They always stick with you.
“Definitely, last year was probably the biggest heartbreaker to have the craziest thing happen that you could ever imagine, an eight‑second lead just gone. … It’s definitely sweet redemption tonight.”
Kevin Harvick, Blaney and Busch rounded out the top five Saturday.
Points leader Kyle Larson, who’s lead on Truex was whittled to 44 points, finished sixth followed by three drivers of local interest — Carl Edwards’ replacement, Daniel Suarez; Joplin, Mo., native Jamie McMurray; and Emporia, Kan., native Clint Bowyer — with Trevor Bayne rounding out the top 10.