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Martin Truex Jr. looking for third straight win at Chicagoland

Martin Truex Jr. (78), who has won two of his last three races, will be going for his third consecutive victory at Chicagoland Speedway. Truex Jr. finished more than seven seconds ahead of Chase Elliott last year. AP

Martin Truex Jr. just celebrated his 38th birthday. He has won two of his last three races. He is spending this weekend at one of his favorite tracks.

So, yes, life is quite good at the moment.

Truex appears to be picking up some momentum as he tries to become the first repeat NASCAR Cup Series champion since Jimmie Johnson won five in a row from 2006 to 2010. He goes for his third consecutive victory at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday.

“This track has always been really good for me. Obviously, the last two years, it’s been really good,” said Truex, who turned 38 on Friday. “I had to overcome a lot of issues here both years it seems like to be able to get the win. That’s kind of neat looking back on our two races here, what we had to overcome to win. This year is going to be different, I think.”

Truex had to deal with a completely unraveled tire on his way to the Chicagoland victory in 2016. He had an early pit-road penalty last year, but he led for 75 laps and finished more than seven seconds ahead of second-place finisher Chase Elliott.

Truex and the rest of the Cup Series face a different challenge on this visit to the bumpy 1.5-mile oval. Chicagoland was being staged in September as NASCAR’s playoff opener, but it has a midsummer date this season and the forecast calls for temperatures in the 90s.

“Grip’s been tough to find this weekend for a lot of guys,” Truex said Saturday. “New tires, as well, so I mean there’s a lot of new things going on. It’s definitely going to be tougher. I would imagine that the groove’s going to be probably on average a little bit higher than when we run here in the fall. I think more guys are going to get the top working. It’s definitely going to be different, but how much it’s hard to say right now.”

Paul Menard, who has just one top-five finish this season, won the pole Saturday.

Truex is coming off a win last weekend at Sonoma, outdueling Kevin Harvick on the road course for his third victory of the season in his Furniture Row Racing Toyota. He also won at Pocono on June 3, holding off a hard-charging Kyle Larson.

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Truex, Harvick and Kyle Busch have combined for 12 wins in the first 16 races on the Cup Series. The only other winners this season are Austin Dillon, Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano.

With his three victories, Truex could use the rest of the summer to experiment with his car ahead of the playoffs. But he called that strategy “a little bit overblown.”

“The experimentation thing I think is something that is more old-school,” he said. “This day and age, you want to have confidence in the things you’re doing and continue to do them. So that’s kind of the approach we’ll take.”

Johnson is still looking for his first win this season, and Chicagoland is one of three tracks on the Cup Series schedule where he is without a victory. He finished second in 2004, 2008 and 2012. But the track also is the site of his only win in 83 starts on the Xfinity Series. He has 83 Cup wins, one away from matching Hall of Famers Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip.

Xfinity Series

Kyle Larson used the high line at Chicagoland Speedway to pass Kevin Harvick and drive away to a dominant victory. Larson also won the pole, but the NASCAR Cup Series regular was sent to the back of the field because of an unapproved tire change after qualifying. It was his second win in three starts on the Xfinity Series this season, joining his victory at Las Vegas in March.

Harvick finished second, and Cole Custer was third after also starting at the back of the field because of a tire issue.

At a glance

Stars and Stripes Weekend

at Chicagoland Speedway

Sunday: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Overton’s 400, 1:30 p.m., NBCSN.