Martin Truex Jr. won the Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway on Saturday night, but the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race ended on a somewhat somber note after a frightening, fiery crash left driver Aric Almirola in a local hospital.
It was a wild night for sure, and not only because Almirola had to be airlifted to the University of Kansas Medical Center after being cut from his No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford.
There were a series of wrecks over the final 25 laps, even after the earlier horrific one involving Almirola, Danica Patrick and Joey Logano.
Truex survived them all to win at Kansas after tough luck prevented him from doing so on two occasions recently when he had the dominant car but couldn’t park it in Victory Lane. He led 95 laps but finished ninth in the spring race in 2015, and last spring led 172 after starting from the pole — but finished 14th after a fluke pit-road mishap.
“We finally did it! You are one hell of a crew chief!” Truex shouted into his team radio as he took the checkered flag, referring to crew chief Cole Pearn.
Truex Jr. passed Blaney for the lead with 25 laps to go, but Corey LaJoie hit the wall just one lap later — sending the leaders to pit road. Blaney’s No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford beat the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota of Truex off pit road by a nose, but could not hold Truex off on the subsequent restart with 19 laps remaining.
Then, after Truex pulled away and appeared to be cruising toward victory, his Furniture Row Racing teammate Erik Jones got turned by Ty Dillon, bringing out the 14th caution of the long night. That set up yet another restart with Truex, as the leader, choosing the inside line on the front row with Blaney lined up on his outside.
The 15th caution and still another restart loomed right behind, as the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Denny Hamlin touched the left-rear of Kurt Busch’s No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, and Busch shot into the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy of Jimmie Johnson.
Blaney started the race from the pole, won Stage 2 and led a total of 83 laps.
But in the end, Blaney could not hold off Truex, who earned his second victory of the season by repeatedly getting the jump on Blaney on restarts over the final 25 laps. Truex also won earlier this season at Las Vegas.
“You just got to time it right,” Truex said of continually getting the jump on restarts. “I’ve been a victim of the same thing. That kid (Blaney) is good, man. He’s going to win a ton of races. He’s really talented and their cars are fast right now.
“You do 10 restarts, eight of them you get right, two of them you screw up. You just hope the ones you screw up aren’t for the win. Today, we were able to get those ones right when it mattered. You know, what can I say? It was just an awesome team effort.”
The night took on a somber tone on Lap 200, with 67 to go, when a part appeared to break in the right-front of Logano’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford, triggering a terrifying high-speed wreck with the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford of Patrick and the No. 43 Ford of Almirola.
After the part appeared to break in Logano’s car, he hooked Patrick. Then Almirola, who was trying to check up behind them, plowed into both cars, hitting Logano’s almost head-on as all three cars burst into a collective ball of fire.
Almirola had to be cut from his car by safety workers and was placed in an ambulance on spine board and a stretcher, and subsequently was airlifted to the University of Kansas Medical Center. FOX Sports was told that Almirola was awake and alert, and that he was being kept there for further observation and evaluation.
Logano clearly was shaken by the incident.
“I’m okay. Just saying a lot of prayers for Aric right now,” Logano told FOX Sports after getting checked out and released from the infield care center. “A lot of us took a hard hit. Something broke on my car, I don’t know what it was. I noticed it as I was trying to go in. I tried to back it off but you’re going 215 (miles per hour) and it’s hard to check up.
“The car just took a bit step sideways into the corner and I hooked Danica (Patrick). I haven’t seen a replay yet, I don’t know what happened. You can see the right-front popped (right there) and it popped. I just hope everyone is okay. I hope Aric is all right. That’s the last thing you want to see, a big hit like that for anyone. It’s unfortunate for everyone. Let’s hope that Aric is alright.”
After a lengthy delay to remove Almirola from his car and get the track cleaned up, the race resumed with Blaney in the lead.
Truex, however, had the better car on the longer runs and was stalking him. After retaking the lead following the restart with 19 to go, Truex gradually built a lead and then survived the series of restarts down the stretch.
Blaney faded to fourth by the finish after falling back on the final restart. Brad Keselowski finished second, Kevin Harvick was third and Kyle Busch ended up fifth.
Earlier, Kyle Busch won Stage 1 and led much of Stage 2 – but faded back toward the end of the second one as Blaney surged back to the front and won it.
Chase Elliott, driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was running third in the early stages of the race when Landon Cassill lost a right-front tire around the Lap 50 mark, sending most of the rest of the field, including Elliott, down pit road for fresh rubber.
As Elliott was pulling out of his pit stall, Michael McDowell was attempting to pit in front of him. The two made contact, causing significant damage to the right-front of Elliott’s No. 24 Chevrolet.
When the race restarted on Lap 55, Elliott restarted way back in 34th following lengthy repairs on pit road. Elliott was able to continue, but his chances of winning were over.
Truex, meanwhile, was just getting started on what he finally was able to finish at what previously had been his hard-luck track.
“It’s always good to get a nice beer shower, 5-Hour Energy and whatever else they’re throwing on us here,” Truex told FOX Sports in Victory Lane. “Pretty awesome. Awesome day. Awesome weekend.
“This team rocks, man, they’re so good. We just stuck with it all night. We had an awesome race car. There’s times there we looked like we weren’t going to have a shot at it. We just kept fighting and made it happen.”