Fans watch the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich. Kurt Busch won the race. THE BLADE/JULIA NAGY
BROOKLYN, Mich. — Last week’s win at Pocono International Raceway put Martin Truex, Jr., firmly into the 16-car Chase for the Sprint Cup field.
Sunday, he found himself in a significantly more venerable class: Richard Petty territory.
Truex has been a top-10 machine during the 2015 Sprint Cup season and added to it Sunday, finishing third at the rain-shortened Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
The top-10 finish was Truex's 14th in the first 15 starts of the year. Truex became the first driver to earn 14 top 10s in the first 15 races of the year to do so since Petty, a seven-time champion, did it in 1969. Truex didn’t know he had matched Petty until the postrace news conference, but he was delighted to hear it any case.
“Just missed it by a little bit today, but really proud of our season, really proud to obviously have my name mentioned next to Richard Petty, The King, is pretty special,” Truex said. “[I'm] thankful for my team and what they’ve done this year, and hopefully we'll keep this thing rolling.”
Truex's No. 78 Chevrolet team finished in the top five for the fifth time this season at MIS.
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The nearly unprecedented beginning to the 2015 season comes after the most mediocre of years from Truex. He finished 24th in the standings and missed the Chase during the 2014 season.
Now — in a contract year, no less — Truex sits in second place in the points standings, 15 points behind leader Kevin Harvick. Truex is ninth in the money standings.
MIS continued to be friendly to Truex: in 19 races at the track, Truex has six top-10 finishes.
The day was filled with hazards for all of the drivers at MIS.
Severe thunderstorms and heavy rains played a part in four red flags and the eventual shortening of the race as a whole. Lightning chased fans out of the grandstands on more than one occasion and kept the race in a constant state of doubt.
Finally, the weather became too severe after 6 p.m. Race officials finally called off the race after 138 of 200 planned laps, sensing the weather wasn’t going to get any better before the track ran out of daylight.
The teams had to stop and start several times Sunday, constantly waiting until the track was dry enough to resume and try to cram in as many laps as the weather would allow. It made the day difficult, but Truex said he was happy given the circumstances.
“It's just a pain in the butt,” Truex said. “Once you get in the car and get the helmet on and get mentally prepared, you're ready to go. It's kind of just a big letdown when you've got to stop and get out of the car again.”
Kurt Busch finished in first place for his second victory of the season.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr., finished just ahead of Truex, and was able to hold him off through a restart. Truex started at the bottom of the track, and lost ground to Earnhardt — ground Earnhardt was able to keep.
Earnhardt said after the race that he could sense Truex had a fast car Sunday, so he made adjustments on the fly.
“I was behind Truex at one point, and he was fast and he was loose, so I said, 'I gotta get loose,' ” Earnhardt said. “[I] ran my track bar up and went forward, started passing cars, so it was good.”
Truex accomplished a third-place finish after qualifying in 16th place. Despite losing ground on his first pit stop, Truex was able to put himself near the front and stay there.
The Sprint Cup will take a week off before resuming June 28 at Sonoma, Calif.