At Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2016 Martin Truex Jr. led all but 8 of the 400 laps. There were some who reasoned that Truex would never have to work harder to win then he did that night when he had to stay up on the wheel for near 400 laps.
Turns it they were wrong.
Truex staged perhaps the drive of his career Saturday night as he had to hold off first Clint Bowyer then Joey Logano in the closing laps to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.
It was his first win of 2019, his first with Joe Gibbs Racing, and his first in 25 races dating back to Kentucky last July.
Most importantly it was his first win on a short track in 81 starts.
“The short track win – everybody kept asking me when it was going to happen,” Truex said. “Tonight, we didn’t have the best car, but we’ve lost here with the best car a bunch of times. We just fought, we battled.”
Truex led a race high 186 laps, most of those coming in the second half of the race. He took the lead for the final time after a round of green flag stops that started on lap 219.
In the closing laps he saw a lead of 2 seconds slowly evaporate as Bowyer reeled him in. Over the last 40 laps Truex got up on the wheel forcing Bowyer to try and pass him on the inside, which was not the preferred line.
“I was struggling the last 40 laps,” Truex said. “I had no front turn. I was just real, real tight in that last run. You just had to hold them off.”
Bowyer wore his tires out allowing Logano to get by for second.
“It is frustrating,” Bowyer said. “You get out there and I ran him down. I was faster on a long run than him but by the time you get to him your stuff is pretty wore out.”
Logano, who had won stage 2, was soon looking for the lead, but after the battle with Bowyer Truex had stretched his lead out. Logano was able to get close in the final 10 laps bringing Bowyer and Kevin Harvick with him, but Truex was able to protect that faster outside line and hold on for the win.
“I was just a couple laps late getting there,” Logano said. “I was able to get to the 19 but it just wasn’t enough. It is kind of a double edge sword. You go to the bottom and you can’t get the drive to clear ‘em and getting to the outside is pretty tough. Just couldn’t get there. Ran out of time. Needed a few more laps.”
Denny Hamlin, who was one of 8 cars forced to start at the rear of the field after failing pre-race inspection finished fifth.
Early in the race it looked like it would be another Kyle Busch show. He took the lead from polesitter Kevin Harvick and went on to win the first stage and lead 101 laps.
His undoing however came during pit stops during the races 4 of 6 cautions. During the stops Busch was penalized for speeding and restarted 26th. He was never able to get back to the front and finished eighth.
In addition to Hamlin, others having to give up their qualifying spots included Jimmie Johnson, Daniel Suarez, Eric Jones and Aric Almirola. Hamlin was the only driver able to make it into the top 10.
Austin Dillon, and Brad Keselowski were sixth and seventh in front of Busch; Ryan Newman and Paul Menard rounded out the top 10.
For Truex the final laps Saturday night were admittedly the toughest of his racing career.
“I don’t know how you explain it other than it’s like driving in the snow and trying to hit a line of six to eight inches in the center of the corner,” Truex said. “It’s just – it’s lack of grip. The car wasn’t doing anything I wanted to do that last run. We got really, really tight. Being out front was really the key and trying to do all I could to not screw up and hold those guys off. It was definitely really, really difficult.”
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series takes its first weekend off of the season before heading to Talladega Superspeedway on April 28.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race Results Toyota Owners 400
Saturday, April 13, 2019
1. (5) Martin Truex Jr, Toyota, 400.
2. (3) Joey Logano, Ford, 400.
3. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 400.
4. (1) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 400.
5. (30) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 400.
6. (6) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 400.
7. (8) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 400.
8. (4) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 400.
9. (24) Ryan Newman, Ford, 400.
10. (9) Paul Menard, Ford, 400.
11. (2) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 400.
12. (34) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 400.
13. (13) William Byron, Chevrolet, 400.
14. (35) Erik Jones, Toyota, 400.
15. (32) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 400.
16. (11) Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Ford, 400.
17. (12) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 399.
18. (33) Daniel Suarez, Ford, 399.
19. (17) Daniel Hemric #, Chevrolet, 399.
20. (16) Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, 399.
21. (23) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 398.
22. (7) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 398.
23. (31) Aric Almirola, Ford, 398.
24. (20) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 398.
25. (22) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 398.
26. (21) Corey LaJoie, Ford, 396.
27. (19) Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 396.
28. (15) David Ragan, Ford, 396.
29. (36) Matt Tifft #, Ford, 395.
30. (29) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 394.
31. (27) Jeb Burton(i), Ford, 392.
32. (26) Bayley Currey(i), Chevrolet, 392.
33. (37) Joey Gase(i), Toyota, 387.
34. (28) Quin Houff, Chevrolet, 386.
35. (25) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 322.
36. (18) Michael McDowell, Ford, Accident, 240.
37. (10) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, Accident, 125.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 99.852 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 0 Mins, 16 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.178 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 5 for 41 laps.
Lead Changes: 8 among 5 drivers.
Lap Leaders: K. Harvick 1-30;K. Busch 31-131;M. Truex Jr 132-194;J. Logano 195-246;M. Truex Jr 247-265;B. Keselowski 266-293;M. Truex Jr 294-318;B. Keselowski 319-321;M. Truex Jr 322-400.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Martin Truex Jr 4 times for 186 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 101 laps; Joey Logano 1 time for 52 laps; Brad Keselowski 2 times for 31 laps; Kevin Harvick 1 time for 30 laps.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 18,22,19,4,14,2,1,37,21,41
Stage #2 Top Ten: 22,19,4,2,14,41,1,20,37,21