Truex claims NASCAR play-offs opener

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Martin Truex Jr. took out the Tales of the Turtles 400 as NASCAR's play-offs began on Sunday.

The regular-season champion, Truex took the lead in the third stage of the Monster Energy Cup race and was never challenged, winning at Chicagoland Speedway.

The victory, his career-high fifth of the season, guarantees Truex a spot in the second round of the play-offs. It was his 12th career victory.

"This is awesome, man. I'm so excited," Truex told NBC Sports afterward. "This is the play-offs - this is what it's all about."

Truex did not have a perfect day - his car had a tough time getting through tech, and he picked up a pair of penalties on pit road - but in the end, he ran away from the field in the closing stage. He led 77 laps on the day.

Not surprisingly, play-off drivers dominated the action, occupying 10 of the top 11 spots in the finishing order. Chase Elliott, still seeking his first NASCAR Cup victory, finished second, with Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson rounding out the top five.

But none of them had anything for Truex in the closing laps.

"I didn't have anything for Martin," Elliott said afterward. "But we had just a solid day all the way around."

Kyle Busch led 78 of the first 80 laps to win stage one of the race. Elliott came on to win the second stage.

The second race of the NASCAR play-offs is on September 24 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The top 12 drivers after the first three races of the play-offs advance to the Round of 12.

A few play-off drivers dug themselves a bit of a hole in Chicago. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. hit the wall and got a commitment-line violation in the first stage that dumped him back in the field. He battled back, but later got caught speeding on pit road. He finished 25th. Ryan Newman finished 23rd and Kasey Kahne was 21st.