Truex races into 2nd round with win in opening playoff race

Martin Truex Jr. (19) drives during a NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Chase Stevens)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Martin Truex Jr. raced his way into the second round of NASCAR's playoffs with a victory Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the opening round of the postseason.

The win is Truex's series-best fifth of the season and again cemented Joe Gibbs Racing as the team to beat in this 10-race playoff series. JGR has 14 wins this season through 27 races.

Truex chased down Kevin Harvick, who was slowed by traffic, to cut into Harvick's lead and eventually make the pass for the win — and the automatic second-round spot — on the outside with 20 laps remaining.

Las Vegas was a brutal opener for a handful of title contenders, including Kurt Busch, who crashed when his tire went flat and he finished last in the field. Erik Jones had an earlier mechanical issue and finished four spots higher in 36th.

The top nine finishers were all playoff contenders as Truex was followed by Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, William Byron, Kyle Larson and reigning series champion Joey Logano.

Kyle Busch hit the wall just five laps into the race and dropped two laps off the pace while his car was repaired. The regular-season champion rallied to finish 18th.

Pole-sitter Clint Bowyer started the race by leading all four Stewart-Haas Racing drivers to the green flag, but he never could clear the traffic and eventually dropped to a 25th-place finish.

Kurt Busch, Bowyer and Jones are now the bottom three drivers in the 16-driver field and in danger of being eliminated in two weeks.

It was 100 degrees when the race began, hours later than it did last season because NASCAR felt it was too hot for fans in attendance.

UP NEXT: Saturday night at Richmond Raceway in Virginia. Kyle Busch is the defending race winner. The field will then be cut by four drivers after the Sept. 29 race at Charlotte.

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