Martin Truex Jr. had one big thing missing from his storied Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career – a short track win. Despite being so strong at most of the short tracks, something has always taken him out of contention in the end.
Entering Saturday’s Toyota Owners 400 at the Richmond Raceway, Truex was 0-for-80 in his past short track starts. But, Richmond was a prime example of his bad luck. Heading into this weekend, Truex had led at least 100 or more laps in four of his past five starts on the 0.75-mile short track. But, he only scored two top five finishes in that time frame.
It was always something. Bad pit stops, untimely cautions, loose wheels, you name it. So, forgive him for being weary in the closing laps of Saturday night’s race.
What could go wrong this time?
Truex, took the lead for the final time on Lap 322 but as the laps wound down, the cars in his rear view mirror grew bigger. Clint Bowyer went from over a second back to less than second behind by time we got to 25 laps-to-go. It appeared to be a foregone conclusion that Bowyer would pass him.
Here we go again right?
This time, Truex drove the race of his life.
He moved his No. 19 Toyota to the middle of the corner and that line change kept him ahead. Yes, Bowyer got close, but he couldn’t get the acceleration off the corner to get by. Bowyer, pushed too hard and barely got into the wall. That allowed Joey Logano to close the gap and even get by Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford with four laps remaining. Logano, would get to Truex’s bumper but couldn’t get by.
Truex, ended his drought and went to victory lane for the first time of his career on a short track and for the first time in 25 races. His last win came at the Kentucky Speedway last July.
He led a race high 186 of 400 laps but this time, he won.
He extended the streak for Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske to start the season with their ninth straight victory on the year and 11th in-a-row if you go back to the end of last season.
Logano, would finish second in his No. 22 Ford for his fourth top four finish in his last five Richmond starts and his 10th top 10 in the last 11 overall. He’s now finished in the top three in each of the last two weeks with the next number in the trend to be first. That’s a likely scenario too as Logano is one of the top restrictor plate racers in the game today and the next race is at Talladega.
Bowyer, fell to third for his first top five finish at Richmond since 2014. It was his third straight top 10 though and his fourth straight top seven on the season.
Pole sitter Kevin Harvick finished fourth in his No. 4 Ford for his eighth top five finish in his last 10 Richmond starts. In fact, in the spring race, Harvick has six top fives in seven years.
Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five in his No. 11 Toyota.
Here are the main takeaways.
The Finish Overshadowed Ho-Hum Racing
Say what you want, Saturday night’s race was much like the other short track – boring. Phoenix, Martinsville and Bristol proved to be track position races. Richmond, was once again the same. We only saw eight lead changes among five drivers on Saturday.
It was difficult to pass.
Yes, we had the top four drivers separated by less than a second at the end, but that overshadowed a ho-hum first 300 laps.
Yes, the finish was fantastic and the last 40 laps edge of your seat fun, but the rest of the race was forgetful.
Pit Stop Penalty Cost Kyle Busch A Likely Win
To further the point above, if Kyle Busch doesn’t speed on pit road following Kyle Larson’s crash, he likely wins instead. His car was just that good. But, when he had to go at the end of the lead lap as a result of his penalty, he struggled to come back through the field. By the end of the second stage, he was only back up to 15th. He got a lucky caution on Lap 242 to get back into the top 10 but he could only get to eighth in the end. Yes, he’s scored a top 10 finish in all nine races this year, but Saturday was a race of what if.
That’s how difficult it was to pass.
JGR/Penske Remain The Best
I wrote about this in the recap, but JGR and Team Penske can’t be stopped right now. If you go back to Kyle Busch’s win last November in Phoenix, they haven’t lost since. That’s 11 in-a-row and all nine this season.
The final finishing positions saw them take the top two spots and three of the top five. They combined to lead 369 of 400 laps on Saturday. They’re just that much better than everyone else right now.
I don’t see that coming to a stop any time soon either.
JGR now has three of their four cars with wins in the first nine races. Penske has two of their three.
The race for the championship goes through them.
SHR Close Behind
The only other team that could even tough Penske and JGR right now is Stewart-Haas Racing. They put two cars in the top five and won the last race not won by the other two at Texas last November. Over the last 21 races, Penske and JGR have won 17 of them. SHR and Hendrick have the other four wins with two apiece.
Kevin Harvick is close as he earned his seventh top 10 finish in his last eight races on the season. It was his first top five though since a fourth place run in Fontana as Harvick has done no better than fourth this season. That’s due to JGR and Penske.
Clint Bowyer now has four straight top seven finishes on the year and is heating up. If anyone is going to stop JGR/Penske, it’s SHR.
Blaney Struggles Again
For whatever reason, Richmond just isn’t Blaney’s track. Heading into Saturday, he had never led a lap there and his best finish was 18th. In this weekend’s race, he was never a factor. Blaney, was 22nd and 24th respectively in the two stages and brought his No. 12 Ford home 25th, two laps down.
He now has five finishes of 22nd or worse in nine starts this season.
Larson’s Bad Luck
Talk about another driver with bad luck, Kyle Larson just can’t seem to get on track. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver got into the Turn 3 wall on Lap 115 and would have to pit for a tire that went down because of that after. Unfortunately, the team never cleared the fender out of the way which a few laps later cut a tire down again and sent him hard into the Turn 1 wall on Lap 127. His day ended with a last place 37th place effort.
Larson, has failed to finish in the top five all year and has just two top 10’s all season.
Richmond, was the site of his last win which was now 55 races ago. At the time of his win in the regular season finale in 2017, he had four wins and seven runner-up finish in the first 26 races to that season. Furthermore, he also had 11 top fives at that point. But, in the 55 races since, Larson has just 16 top fives with seven runner-ups.
His stats have declined and he needs to find a way to get back going again.
We do have some drivers rising now too. Ryan Newman brought his No. 6 Ford home ninth for his third straight top 11 finish on the season. Paul Menard finished 10th in his No. 21 Ford for his second straight top 10 on the year.
These two are making the playoff bubble real strong right now.