Martin Truex Jr. grabs the golden ring at Sonoma

SONOMA, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 23: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, crosses the finish line to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 23, 2019 in Sonoma, California. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Martin Truex Jr. rode the carousel straight to victory Sunday. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver staged a dominate performance on the longer Sonoma Raceway road course to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota/Save Mart 350 for his fourth win of the season and the 23rd of his career.

“Luckily, I was able to have a big enough gap where I could settle in, not feel too much pressure,” Truex said.  “It was definitely difficult.  That was the longest run of the race there at the end for us on tires.  It felt terrible the last 20 laps.  Last 10 it was just like on ice, no grip anywhere.”

Truex led a race high 59 of the 90 laps for his third win at Sonoma and his second consecutive victory at the track. Unlike his last two wins however, this win came on the road course lengthened from a 1.99-mile configuration to its original length from pre-1998 of 2.52 miles with the addition of “The Carousel.” Up until this season the track used a bypass that connected turns 4 and 7 known as “The Chute.” For the track’s 50th anniversary the bypass was gone.

William Byron led from pole, leading a total of 21 laps and winning the first stage. The key for the field came with pit stop sequences as those who decided to pit prior to the stage breaks seemingly faring batter as those who pitted during the stage cautions.

Truex pitted outside the stage breaks, Byron during and finished 19th.

The two stage cautions were the only two caution periods of the race.

Kyle Busch was Truex’s only threat in the closing laps. After the final pit stops Busch and Truex separated themselves from the pack. With three lap fresher tires, Busch worked hard shrinking an 8-second gap in the closing laps but came up short losing to Truex by 1.8 seconds.

“Any time I had to lean on the left rear, I just didn’t have the drive that I needed,” Busch said.  “Actually, tried to hold on to it, trying to save it.  I knew that was going to be our problem.  That had been our problem all day long.  You get closer, you’re like, Okay, I can get him, I better go, pounce on him fast, so then he doesn’t have the time to pick up the pace.

“But it didn’t work.  He was obviously saving a lot.  I knew he was going to be saving a lot, have enough to be able to most likely hold us off.  I was right. I still tried everything I could to get there and ran real hard.”

Ryan Blaney was 33 seconds behind after rallying late to finish third.

“The way the stages are, you can either choose to finish the stage out, get stage points, but you have to restart way in the middle of the pack, or pit early,” Blaney said.  “That’s kind of the strategy we wanted to do.

“Today even though you hate giving up stage points, you just get yourself ahead of all the mess.  You can kind of get in your own rhythm, do your own thing, not have to worry about someone behind you and in front of you all the time. “

Matt DiBenedetto celebrated a career best finish of fourth. Denny Hamlin won Stage 2 and came home fifth.

Chase Elliott charged from his third place starting spot at the drop of the green flag to grab second and was in contention for the lead until lap 61 when he was sent to the garage with engine issues; he was scored 37th.

Kevin Harvick struggled all weekend but was able to use smart pit strategy to salvage a sixth-place finish.  Ryan Newman, Erik Jones and Aric Almirola followed while polesitter Kyle Larson rounded out the top 10.

“We did grind one out,” Harvick said. “We didn’t have a great car this weekend. We aborted everything that we were doing and put the 14 stuff in and we still weren’t very good. We wound up grinding the right front tire off at the end and was just hanging on for dear life. That is a gritty performance. That is what we have done all year. We need to figure out how to be closer at the beginning of the weekend. We will. We have been scrapping pretty hard for 16 weeks.”

Joe Gibbs Racing has now won 10 of the 16 races this season and Busch and Truex lead all drivers with 4 apiece.  Busch and Truex have also finished 1-2 seven times; Busch has won 4 of those, Truex now has 3.

“What a season we’ve turned this into,” Truex said. “This is great, man, unbelievable. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Chicagoland Speedway for next Sunday’s Camping World 400.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race Results Toyota/Save Mart 350
Sonoma Raceway
Sonoma, California
Sunday, June 23, 2019

1. (8)  Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 90.

2. (7)  Kyle Busch, Toyota, 90.

3. (9)  Ryan Blaney, Ford, 90.

4. (19)  Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 90.

5. (6)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 90.

6. (23)  Kevin Harvick, Ford, 90.

7. (21)  Ryan Newman, Ford, 90.

8. (32)  Erik Jones, Toyota, 90.

9. (15)  Aric Almirola, Ford, 90.

10. (1)  Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 90.

11. (14)  Clint Bowyer, Ford, 90.

12. (11)  Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 90.

13. (16)  Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 90.

14. (12)  Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 90.

15. (25)  Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 90.

16. (10)  Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 90.

17. (5)  Daniel Suarez, Ford, 90.

18. (22)  Brad Keselowski, Ford, 90.

19. (2)  William Byron, Chevrolet, 90.

20. (18)  David Ragan, Ford, 90.

21. (17)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 90.

22. (24)  Paul Menard, Ford, 90.

23. (3)  Joey Logano, Ford, 90.

24. (26)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 90.

25. (13)  Michael McDowell, Ford, 89.

26. (30)  Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 89.

27. (31)  Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 89.

28. (28)  Matt Tifft #, Ford, 89.

29. (20)  Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, 89.

30. (29)  Parker Kligerman(i), Toyota, 89.

31. (35)  Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 89.

32. (27)  Corey LaJoie, Ford, 89.

33. (37)  Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 89.

34. (33)  Justin Haley(i), Chevrolet, 88.

35. (38)  Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 88.

36. (34)  Cody Ware(i), Chevrolet, Fatigue, 64.

37. (4)  Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, Engine, 60.

38. (36)  JJ Yeley, Chevrolet, Fuel Pump, 53.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  83.922 mph.
Time of Race:  2 Hrs, 42 Mins, 9 Secs. Margin of Victory:  1.861 Seconds.
Caution Flags:  2 for 6 laps.
Lead Changes:  7 among 5 drivers.
Lap Leaders:   K. Larson 0;W. Byron 1-21;C. Elliott 22-24;M. Truex Jr. 25-37;D. Hamlin 38-41;M. Truex Jr. 42-63;K. Busch 64-66;M. Truex Jr. 67-90.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Martin Truex Jr. 3 times for 59 laps; William Byron 1 time for 21 laps; Denny Hamlin 1 time for 4 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 3 laps; Chase Elliott 1 time for 3 laps.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 10,11,21,22,24,37,4,42,48,88
Stage #2 Top Ten: 11,17,18,19,2,22,24,42,43,9

Greg Engle