NASCAR

Martin Truex Jr. wins Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 from Chicagoland Speedway

Martin Truex Jr. wins Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 from Chicagoland Speedway

JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — Martin Truex Jr. went from a completely unraveled tire that left him a lap down to the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup championship lead for the first time in his career.

He can thank a late caution in what has been an emotional year for the small-team driver.

Truex shot to the front after a late restart and pulled away to give Furniture Row Racing a NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff-opening victory Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.

"I've had a lot of practice at it," Truex said about the on-track obstacles. "I think my approach really changed two years ago when (girlfriend) Sherry got diagnosed with cancer. My approach to all those things changed and made me a better driver."

NASCAR announced after the race that Truex's No. 78 Toyota failed the laser inspection, but the infraction was not at the level of negating the victory for Chase qualification purposes. Truex is expected to receive a point penalty this week.

Rookie Chase Elliott appeared on his way to an easy win until Michael McDowell blew a tire and spun out to bring a caution with five laps left.

Elliott and Truex came in to pit for tires, with some non-Chase drivers Ryan Blaney and Kasey Kahne and Chase contender Carl Edwards staying on the track.

Truex restarted fourth and Elliott fifth, and Truex quickly got to the front and held off Joey Logano on the final lap for his third victory of the season. Truex is guaranteed to move on when the Chase field is cut from 16 to 12 in two weeks.

Truex, whose team gets technical support from Joe Gibbs Racing, made the last four in the 2015 Chase. His 2016 season started with near miss at the Daytona 500 and a Coca-Cola 600 win, while Sherry Pollex has battled ovarian cancer. She's now in remission.

"You have to understand, this isn't the end of the world." Truex said of racing setbacks. "We can overcome it. That's what we did today."

Elliott, a rookie, finished third, followed by Blaney and Chase driver Brad Keselowski, who sits second in points.

"It's not yours until it's over," the 20-year-old Elliott said. "That's part of life, man. You're not dumb. We've all watched this stuff long enough to know these races don't go green that long."

Truex led early in the race only to have his tire come completely unraveled. It led to an unscheduled stop that left him a lap down in the 400-mile race.

"The hard compound came off it," Cole Pearn, Truex's crew chief, said. "I guess (Goodyear) saw a couple other tires and came down and told us a certain sequence number had an issue."

Truex had no other tire issues on the 1.5-mile oval and outraced Kevin Harvick, who also got into early trouble, to be in position for the free pass to the lead lap on the next caution.

Jimmie Johnson dominated the middle of the race, leading 118 laps, until Elliott got by him on lap 176 of 267.

Johnson was running second when he was caught speeding on pit road during the last green-flag stop, yelling "no way!" on his radio when told he had to serve a pass-through penalty. Johnson finished 12th, but his car also failed laser inspection and he could plummet in the points standings.

Elliott led for 75 laps in what was a clean race with only three cautions until McDowell's late wreck changed the dynamic of the race.

"I feel for Chase. I know what he's going through," Truex said. "I wasn't going to catch him."

Scott Paddock on Danica Patrick's transition to NASCAR

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Scott Paddock on Danica Patrick's transition to NASCAR

Danica Patrick's transition to NASCAR hasn't been an easy one.

Finishing in the middle-to-lower of the pack in most races, the former IndyCar racer is still trying to find her groove in stock cars.

Scott Paddock joined SportsTalk Live on Wednesday to talk about her season struggles.

"She would probably be the first to admit that she had higher expectations," Paddock said. "There's certainly going to be a learning curve as you transition from the open wheel race cars to the stock cars, and she's in good equipment. This Stewart-Haas race team, you can't blame it on the equipment, it's a well-resourced team. I think you would have expected a little bit more of a progression. ... I think she'd probably be her biggest critic.

"But she's a remarkable ambassador to the sport and I think I've gone on record before that what she's doing is nothing short of remarkable competition with the men without any competitive advantage whatsoever."

See what else Paddock had to say in the video above. Also be sure to check out his thoughts on Jimmie Johnson's sixth career Sprint Cup win at Fontana in the video below.

Jimmie Johnson gets past Harvick in OT to win at Fontana

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Jimmie Johnson gets past Harvick in OT to win at Fontana

FONTANA, Calif. — Jimmie Johnson pulled away in overtime to beat Kevin Harvick on Sunday for the Southern California native's record sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory at Fontana.

Johnson was third on the late restart, but surged past leader Denny Hamlin while giving a little bump to Harvick. He side-drafted Harvick and easily got away for his 77th career victory, passing Dale Earnhardt Sr. for seventh place in NASCAR history.

"We saved the best for last, for sure," Johnson said.

Johnson finished with his fastest lap of the race to claim his second win of the young season, adding Fontana to Atlanta. The six-time series champion has won three of his last eight races after a 20-race winless skid in his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

Harvick was in position to win for the second consecutive week before second-place Kyle Busch blew a tire with two laps to go, forcing the race into overtime. Hamlin got off pit road first for his first lead of the race, but Johnson's fresh tires gave him the speed needed to get ahead.

"I knew we had a great car, and the caution fell at a bad time," Johnson said. "The run before, I just didn't have the tires on the car to race with those guys. I got a great run off of Turn 2, and I thought, 'Man, I've got a shot at this thing,' which I didn't expect to have. Harvick has been so fast."

Johnson is from El Cajon, just outside San Diego. He won at Fontana in 2009 and 2010, but hadn't finished higher than ninth in his last four races at his closest thing to a hometown track, one hour east of Los Angeles. His sixth victory increases his own career record.

Harvick finished second to Johnson for the ninth consecutive time that the California natives have occupied the top two spots.

"That was the worst it's taken off on the restarts," Harvick said of the last lap. "But we weren't good on the restarts for four or five laps unless we were by ourselves. We weren't able to drive it in like I needed to. Just didn't have the front tires turning, and then the back wouldn't grip. Still a good day for us."

Hamlin was third, followed by Joey Logano and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Martin Truex Jr. was in contention until late contact with Logano, who left Truex furious.

The combination of Auto Club Speedway's aged asphalt and NASCAR's new low-downforce package led to the excellent entertainment value that most drivers expected in the closest race to Hollywood. Fontana showcased uncommonly close racing and multiple passes on one of the series' fastest tracks.

Johnson soared to the win with the Superman logo emblazoned on his hood to promote Warner Bros.' upcoming "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" film. Johnson later donned a red cape, knowingly grinning at the cheesiness.