Martin Truex Jr. overcame late adversity and continued to assert his mastery over the first round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
Rallying from a spin off the bumper of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s Ford, and passing Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch for the lead with 25 laps left, Truex led an 1-2-3 finish for JGR in Saturday night’s Federated Auto parts 400 at Richmond Raceway.
In fact, the Gibbs cars were 1-2-3-4 at the finish, but a disqualification due to a post-race Optical Scanning Station inspection failure cost Erik Jones his fourth-place result. The disqualification was the first in the Cup Series this year.
The victory was a milestone for Truex. The winner of last week’s Playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Truex had never won back-to-back races before. Now the driver of the No. 19 Toyota has six wins this season, a season sweep at Richmond and 25 victories in his Cup career.
Busch came home second, 2.630 seconds behind his teammate. Denny Hamlin ran third, followed by pole winner Brad Keselowski.
Truex’s win, however, was no cakewalk. On Lap 315, Stenhouse, who had just pitted for new tires, drove hard into Turn 3 beneath the No. 19 Camry. Stenhouse lost the nose of his No. 17 Ford, slid up into Truex’s car and sent him spinning, handing the lead to Busch.
Restarting third after the fifth and final caution of the race, Truex chased his teammate for the next 50 laps, finally clearing him on Lap 375.
“Luckily I didn’t hit anything,” Truex said of his spin. “I just tried to keep it off the fence, tried to get spun around and get going, and we ended up—because we were pretty far up front, we got going in a pretty good spot and left pit road in a good position and then good adjustments at the end again by (crew chief) Cole (Pearn) and (engineer) James (Small) and the guys.
“This is just freaking unbelievable. So we came here to get bonus points and damn sure we did that… Had a heck of a race with Kyle and Denny all night long, really, and we just kept plugging away at it, kept plugging away at it, as we always do. We just keep digging and we never quit. Next thing you know, catching the 18 (Busch) for the lead, I’m like, ‘Cool, all right, here we go.’ Man, to sweep Richmond finally is pretty awesome, as much as we’ve led here coming into this year, and just thanks to everybody. It’s pretty amazing.”
Though Busch led a race-high 202 laps to Truex’s 109, the driver of the No. 18 Toyota conceded his car wasn’t quite up to the task of challenging his teammate.
“I don’t think we were as good as him all night long,” Busch acknowledged. “Martin, the car, the combination thereof, us, the combination of, just lacked a little bit. You know, like the 11 (Hamlin) lacked a little bit more than us. Just weird, I don’t know.
“We led a lot of laps. We were up front a lot. But when I was out front, he could keep the closest distance to me. That kind of worried me for a finish like that in the long run.
Keselowski was the only driver other than Truex and Busch to lead laps on Saturday. Playoff drivers Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer finished fifth through eighth respectively.
Alex Bowman (24th), Bowyer and Kurt Busch (19th) and Jones (credited with a last-place finish) enter the final race of the Round of 16 below the cut line for the next round.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!