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Truex Jr. Wins Playoff Opener

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Martin Truex Jr. won the opening race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs on Sunday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 2017 champion passed Kevin Harvick on Lap 248 and went on to score his fifth win of the season and in the process advanced to the next round of the playoffs.

“It was a lot of fun tonight,” Truex Jr. said. “Any time you get a car like that it’s a lot of fun. It wasn’t easy, we had our challenges.

“These next two weeks are all about bonus points. This is big today to get six. Those are really important to get to Homestead.”

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Truex Jr. has won the opening race of the playoffs three of the last four seasons.

“We hit it right when we needed to at the end and beat the 4 car,” he said. “Really, that whole second to last run I was just babying it to save the right rear, then we started being faster than him and Cole got the car perfect that last run.”

Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney rounded out the top five.

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Alex Bowman, William Byron, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman completed the first 10 finishers. Logano led a race-high 105 laps but had contact with Daniel Suarez on Lap 189.

“If we didn’t have a wrecked car we would have had a shot at winning,” Logano said. “We were really good at the beginning of the race. We drove all the way to the lead and led a bunch of laps. We can be proud of that. We won’t let our heads get down on this. It is still a strong day.”

Logano and Truex Jr. won the first two stages of the race. Stage Points

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series now moves to Richmond Raceway next Saturday night.

How Truex Jr. Won: Truex Jr. ram down Harvick who got stuck behind slower traffic with 20 laps to go. That provided the opportunity to get by for the top spot and once he did, Truex Jr. sailed to a relatively easy win and kicked off the playoffs in the best possible fashion with a win and a berth in the next round of the championship race.

Who Had a Good Day: Harvick has finished seventh or better in seven of the last eight races this season…Keselowski finished 18th and 13th, respectively in the first two stages but came to life in the end to score his ninth straight top-10 finish at Las Vegas…Elliott has finished top 10 in five of the last six races this season…Bowman scored his best finish since his win at Chicago, only his second top 10 since as well.

Who Had a Bad Day: Kurt Busch had the worst race of the playoff contenders with a last-place finish after he cut a tire and hit the wall…Erik Jones had a mechanical issue and dropped several laps off the pace to eventually finish 36th…Kyle Busch hit the wall early to drop laps down to the leader. He battled back several times but got caught in lapped traffic late to end his charge back to the front and ended up 19th (Read More).

What Else Happened: Discussion about the heat permeated the conversation all weekend long. But unlike last year when the extreme conditions caused slick track conditions and more slipping and sliding, Sunday’s race was by far a tamer affair. The added downforce by this year’s rules package added to that handling phenomenon and drivers did not have to battle the slick conditions of a year ago that produced one of the more wild races of the playoffs.

Quotable: “Just got my nuts busted racing around the squirrels, I guess. That happens, it’s part of getting back there,” Joey Logano on falling back and battling in the middle of the pack.

Notables: Truex Jr. scored his 12th career 1.5-mile win…It was the 171st career win for JGR…Hendrick Motorsports had three drivers in the top-seven for just the second time this season.