Takeaways from Kansas: Martin Truex Jr. almost stole a win

Kevin Harvick (4) passes Martin Truex Jr. (78) with a lap to go to win the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Kansas Speedway on Saturday, May 12, 2018, in Kansas City, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Welcome to our weekly post-race column of fire takes. Let’s see what’s in store this week after Saturday night’s race at Kansas.

Clean air almost gets Truex a win

Martin Truex Jr. was one of six drivers who didn’t pit on the second-to-last caution of the race when Ryan Blaney hit the wall on lap 248.

The pit strategy call put Truex in second and he was just ahead of Joey Logano when the final caution of the night flew for a big wreck involving William Byron, Ryan Newman and others.

The lead on the final restart almost paid off massively as Truex pulled away from the field. But as Kevin Harvick moved to the top of the track to try to gain time on Truex, the 2017 champion’s car started to fade and his hopes of a third-straight win at Kansas Speedway disappeared.

[Kevin Harvick gets fifth win of 2018 at Kansas]

“I thought with five to go, we were going to be in good shape,” Truex said. “We were running some really fast lap times and actually pulling away, and then actually the switch flipped and I got tight and started shaking the right front tire, and I knew I was in trouble.”

Harvick almost ran out of time to catch Truex, however. He didn’t complete the pass until the two drivers had entered turn one on the final lap.

“We’re going to have to find some speed, and I think our cars are capable,” Truex said. “We’ve had good speed throughout the season at points.  We just haven’t been as consistent as last year in finding it.  I feel like the box for us is a little bit smaller, and it’s pretty evident that the Fords have an unfair advantage this year, so I’ll just throw that out there.”

From this perspective, Truex said the comment about unfair advantages with his tongue in his cheek as a reference to Brad Keselowski’s comments about Toyota’s dominance in 2017. The apparent sarcasm wasn’t relayed to Harvick in his press conference when he was asked about Truex’s comment.

“That’s funny,” Harvick said. “Maybe he forgot about last year.”

William Byron hits wall violently

William Byron said his crash Saturday night was the hardest hit he’s ever taken in a race car.

Byron and his team had put two fresh tires on his car before a restart with 16 laps to go in an attempt to gain track position. The track position ploy worked, but not for long. Byron got loose on the inside of other cars off turn four and his car snapped loose and went head-on into the outside wall.

The impact with the wall combined with a hit from Ryan Newman sent the back end of Byron’s car up into the air.

“Yeah, that one hurt really bad but, I’m fine,” Byron said. “We took two tires there and couldn’t get it turned on the bottom and then got sucked around at the last minute. It just should have been lower than that. Just couldn’t rotate. Couldn’t cut. I think overall, we were trying to kind of push some things there and it just didn’t work out. But, we’re going to wherever is next and that was definitely the hardest hit I’ve been in. But, I’m thankful to be walking, so that’s good.”

Kansas has inexplicably become a place for insane crashes. Aric Almirola broke his back in a crash at Kansas in 2017 when the back of his car got airborne and slammed back into the track and there have been many other massive crashes at the speedway ever since it opened in 2001.

Kyle Larson finishes fourth after starting 34th

Kyle Larson had an insanely fast car. Larson started near the back of the field and was 13th just eight laps into the race — a gain of 21 spots.

The march to the front continued as he took the lead for the first time on lap 131. Larson held onto the lead through lap 213 and then took it again from laps 226-243. But once Kevin Harvick passed him on lap 244, Larson’s car faded a bit.

It got damaged when Ryan Blaney tried to side draft with him on lap 248. The contact damaged Blaney’s car and cut his tire, sending the No. 12 into the wall.

“Then Blaney was side-drafting really hard and I was as high as I could get and we made contact, whatever, and we had a bunch of damage, so I hate that we didn’t turn today into a win, but it’s satisfying to see how much speed our car had tonight,” Larson said. “And, it’s definitely good to show that Chevy has a lot of speed, at least in the No. 42 team; so, we’ll just keep working hard and try to get as fast as [Harvick].”

The contact damaged Larson’s left-rear quarterpanel too. He still somehow came back to finish fourth, though he may get a points penalty later this week. Larson’s rear windshield was visibly bowed in after the race and NASCAR has already issued four penalties for that windshield issue this year.

“So, I’m glad to see that we have a lot of damage back there because obviously if there was no damage back there we would probably get a penalty and who knows, we might still,” Larson said. “But I’ve got a ton of damage back there. These cars are pretty rigid and one piece of damage can affect the whole rest of the car, as you can see.”

Stenhouse and Elliott get unhappy with each other

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Chase Elliott were racing for 10th on the final lap when Stenhouse slid up in front of Elliott’s car. Elliott let off the gas instead of turning Stenhouse into the wall and conceded the position to the No. 17 car.

But the move slowed the momentum of both cars enough to allow Kyle Busch to pass each of them before the finish line for 10th. Stenhouse was 11th and Elliott finished 12th.

After taking the checkered flag, Elliott hit Stenhouse’s bumper and then Stenhouse swerved into Elliott. The two drivers then exchanged words after exiting their cars, though it appeared there were no real hurt feelings about the incident.

Given Elliott’s momentum and the circumstances of the lap we couldn’t blame Elliott if he had stayed in the gas and dumped Stenhouse in the line. Stenhouse got away with one there.

Elliott could also have been upset about his team’s performance. At 12th he was the second-highest finishing Chevy behind Kyle Larson in fourth.

“Yeah, just scratching and clawing to run mediocre,” Elliott said. We have a lot of work to do.”

Matt Kenseth’s return is a dud

Matt Kenseth’s first race of 2018 wasn’t a vast improvement for Roush Fenway Racing. Kenseth finished 36th in his first race in Trevor Bayne’s No. 6 after he was caught in Byron’s crash.

Kenseth wasn’t competitive before the crash either. He was two laps down and running nowhere close to the top 10. Perhaps the problems with the No. 6 team are more than Bayne. While we didn’t expect Kenseth to suddenly contend for a win or even a top 10 on Saturday night, the lack of speed was a little surprising.

More post-race thoughts

For more thoughts, check out Jeff Gluck’s podcast. I joined him this week to discuss what turned out to be an eventful final 30 laps on Saturday night.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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