WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — One by one they passed him as the laps dwindled at Watkins Glen International, and Martin Truex Jr. stuck to the plan. In the end, he was the one laughing in victory lane.
Truex held off a charging Matt Kenseth on the final lap and won the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup I Love New York 355 at Watkins Glen International on Sunday, stretching his fuel to the triumphant end. It was the second road course victory of his career.
‘‘I've wanted to win here for a long time. This is a big one for our team,’’ Truex said. ‘‘I never ran 100 percent because I didn’t have to. I ran hard enough [on the last lap] to just try to manage that gap.’’
Truex gained the lead when Penske Racing’s Brad Keselowski in the No. 2 Ford and Ryan Blaney in the No. 21 Ford for the Wood Brothers were forced to pit in the final three laps.
‘‘It’s excruciating to go that slow here and try to save that much fuel,’’ Truex said. ‘‘The toughest part, really, was just watching the No. 2 pass and go on, and then watching the No. 21 pass and go on. It’s like, ‘All right, if they don’t run out of gas, we’re going to look really dumb.’ Fortunately, it worked out for us.’’
Trailing by three seconds after saving fuel for several laps, Truex assumed the lead in his No. 78 Toyota when Blaney ducked into the pits as the white flag was about to fly. Despite a bobble and locking the brakes as Kenseth challenged on the last lap, Truex won for the fourth time this season.
‘‘He was so fast, I still couldn’t get to him,’’ said Kenseth, who maintained his slim points lead over Clint Bowyer for the final slot in the playoffs with four races to go before the cutoff. ‘‘I was racing as hard as I could, trying to make as many passes as I could.’’
Daniel Suarez was third, the best finish of his rookie season, followed by Denny Hamlin and Bowyer. Pole-sitter Kyle Busch was seventh.
Truex boosted his playoff points total to a whopping 34, nearly double that of second-place Jimmie Johnson (18) as his best season shows no signs of tailing off.
Busch, who dominated qualifying earlier in the day, was the class of the field early and gained a big lead after the green flag dropped and led all 20 laps of the first stage. By the eighth time around the 2.45-mile circuit, Busch held a 3.4-second lead over Truex, while Keselowski in sixth was 10 seconds behind. It was Busch’s ninth stage win of the season.