Martin Truex Jr. gets overdue Kansas victory

Martin Truex Jr. earned an emotional win on an emotional night Saturday at Kansas Speedway.

Truex, thwarted on past days when he had cars capable of winning at the 1.5-mile track that the Denver-based team considers its home speedway, wasn't denied as he held off the field on two late restarts with Ryan Blaney providing the toughest competition.

Having led 518 laps at the track coming into the night, he finished 14th a year ago at Kansas when a bolt that holds the brake rotor ended up breaking.

"It's been a long time coming at this racetrack for sure," Truex said. "The heartbreaks we've been through, I'm definitely proud tonight to cross that checkered flag first. ... As a racer, you don't forget the ones that got away."

The late cautions -- among the 15 during the 267-lap race where 61 laps were run under caution -- made the team wonder if a win was in its destiny.

"It seemed like it was one of those nights where we were doomed to give it away," crew chief Cole Pearn said.

There was nothing that could doom Truex, and the team certainly celebrated the win. But it was a night where much of the thought was on Aric Almirola, who was at the University of Kansas Medical Center after one of the most violent, fiery crashes that the NASCAR Cup Series has seen in recent years.

The accident started when Joey Logano had something break in the right front of his car, turning him into Danica Patrick, who then slammed the wall. Almirola came skidding into the accident several seconds later.

While he dropped the driver's side window net immediately to show he was conscious, rescue workers cut the roof off of Almirola's car and used a backboard to get him out. There was no immediate word on Almirola's injuries.

Logano, watching the replay for the first time on television, was visibly shaken after seeing the impact.

"Everything was fine, and then it just took a hard right," Logano said. "Everyone pray for Aric right now."

The race resumed after a red flag of 27 minutes. With 67 laps remaining, it appeared it would be a race between Blaney and Truex, a race between a driver looking to earn his first NASCAR Cup win and a driver looking for his ninth and who has enjoyed the best stretch of his career since 2015.

"This is a track he just excels at," Furniture Row Motorsports team owner Barney Visser said of Truex. "We expected to do really well here."

Truex met those expectations. He took the lead with 24 laps left, and a caution promptly came out a couple of laps later. He restarted third and had the lead again within a lap. The caution flew another two times, and he executed perfect restarts each time.

"He made a really good move on that restart and was able to pass us [with 19 laps left], and then we had a couple more opportunities towards the end of that race, and he got a couple really good restarts and I didn't, and that was kind of the deciding factor," said Blaney, who wound up fourth after crossing the finish line behind Truex, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick.

Truex, who already had won this year at Las Vegas to virtually secure a spot in the NASCAR playoffs, now is guaranteed a spot as long as he competes each week.

But more than making the playoffs, he got a win at a place where he never forgot the near-misses.

"It's definitely been a thorn in our side," he said. "That's for sure. You know for years and years even before I was with this team, for whatever reason, we always ran good here and never could close the deal.

"[I'm] proud to get these guys back in Victory Lane. ... We got a lot of fans from Colorado here today. I met a bunch of them before the race, and hopefully they're all psyched."

They probably, like Truex, are psyched for not just what occurred Saturday, but for what's to come. He now heads to Charlotte, the track where he led a record 588 miles of the 600-mile Coca-Cola 600 a year ago, for NASCAR's All-Star Race and the longest race of the year at the time.

"Awesome day," said Truex, who led a race-high 104 laps Saturday. "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."