BC-CAR--NASCAR-Sonoma, 1st Ld-Writethru,390
Martin Truex Jr. holds off KyBusch to defend Sonoma title
AP Photo CABM107, RPGB501, CABM104, CABM105
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Martin Truex Jr. won the NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway for the second straight year. He comfortably held off teammate Kyle Busch for his fourth victory of the season. Truex won for the fourth time in the last eight points-paying races, earning his 23rd career victory and extending his team's impressive season.
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
SONOMA, Calif. (AP) — Martin Truex Jr. won the NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway for the second straight year Sunday, comfortably holding off teammate Kyle Busch for his fourth victory of the season.
Truex won for the fourth time in the last eight points-paying races, earning his 23rd career victory and extending his team's impressive season. The late-blooming 38-year-old is a three-time Sonoma champion.
The Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota teammates finished 1-2 for the seventh time in their careers.
"What a season we've turned this into," Truex said. "This group, they're unbelievable. Hopefully we can keep this going."
Ryan Blaney was third, with Matt DiBenedetto finishing a career-best fourth. Denny Hamlin was fifth.
Truex and Busch were the class of the final stage in a caution-free race on the hilly road course.
The drivers had little trouble navigating "The Carousel," the extra turns inserted into the NASCAR layout for the first time since 1997.
Truex got the lead early in the third stage, and Busch didn't follow Truex into the pits for the final stop. When Busch finally pitted, Truex reclaimed the lead with 23 laps to go.
Truex opened an 8-second advantage and held off a strong push by Busch to win by 1.861 seconds.
"I just dug down deep, tried to be smooth and hit my marks," Truex said. "It was definitely difficult. It felt terrible the last 20 laps. The last 10, it was like being on ice."
Series points leader Joey Logano had battery problems and had to pit with 15 laps to go. He finished 23rd.
After a week off for the drivers, the championship race resumed with Joe Gibbs Racing reasserting its dominance on the hilly road course in Northern California wine country.
The track has another degree of difficulty with the return of the difficult three-turn Carousel, which hasn't been used for a NASCAR race since 1997. Truex was initially uncertain how his team's years of success in Sonoma would be affected by the new layout.
Turns out he didn't need to worry, not even about Busch.
"He was obviously saving a lot," Busch said of his teammate. "I knew he was going to have enough to be able to most likely hold us off, and I was right. I just tried everything I could."