LONG POND, Pa. – This was the showdown for which fans at the Pocono 400 on Sunday were hoping.
Kevin Harvick in his No. 4 Ford and Kyle Busch in his No. 18 Toyota had combined for nine wins in the first 13 races of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The pair has had the best cars all season and both brought strong machines to the Tricky Triangle.
Busch had the second starting position and Busch was fifth, but their best times during qualifying on Friday were just a fraction of a second apart.
Harvick and Busch did not disappoint. But after a restart with 142 laps of the 160 laps completed on the 2½-mile track, it was Martin Truex Jr. – the reigning series champion – who led.
Truex had won once this season, March 18 at Fontana, Calif., and talked consistently about correctable things he believed his team could clean up for the No. 78 Toyota.
His message going into the first race of the second half was that this thing wasn't decided.
The Trenton native reiterated that statement by holding the lead despite two more restarts and winning his second Pocono 400 in four years.
Truex took advantage of the clean air a front-runner gets to hold off Kyle Larson and Busch and Harvick.
It was a great ending of a week for Truex that started with New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy honoring him in Trenton by declaring May 31 Martin Truex Jr. Day and finished with him picking up six playoff points for winning a 50-lap stage and the race in Pocono.
"It's been a good weekend overall," Truex said. "It's kind of been a sane weekend. I feel like we're getting back to what we were doing last year."
By not pitting during a caution flag to change tires like some others did, Truex had his car in the lead for a restart with 18 laps to go.
The gamble was that the clean air from driving in front would outweigh the benefit of fresh tires.
"It was a little disappointing that the tires didn't mean much there at the end, with guys who had 10 or 11 more laps on their tires," Busch said. "They were still able to outrun us with for us having fresher rubber. Clean air was king today."
Things got harrowing when two more cautions forced restarts in the final 14 laps. But each time, Truex jetted out of a green flag to stay ahead of his challengers.
With seven laps to go, he had put distance in his lead and would not be run down.
"The 4, the 18, the 78, we went at it all day long, and personally we came out on top today so it was pretty awesome," Truex said. "It always run to win but especially when you beat the best guys out there.