By Brian Citino
DOVER, Del. (Oct. 2, 2016) — Within the world of NASCAR, there are victories that nearly every driver craves. The Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and Southern 500 are among the most iconic events in the history of the sport, and ones that all drivers desire to win.
But ask almost any of the competitors and they’ll tell you the most special wins come at their “hometown” tracks. And so, in Sunday’s “Citizen Soldier 400” NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway, Martin Truex Jr. earned himself a “special” win.
The Mayetta, N.J., native grew up two hours north of the Monster Mile, and has always considered the Delaware track his home.
“What an awesome weekend for us,” Truex said. “This track has always been special to me … always been close to my heart. I’ve had a lot of heartbreaks here, so today I’m just thankful to have a great team and get back to Victory Lane at a track that’s so special to me.”
Truex entered the race not needing a win to advance, as he won the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup opener two weeks ago. You wouldn’t know that from the way he attacked the track throughout the day, however, as he led 187 laps, nearly half the race and beat Kyle Busch, who finished second, by 7.527 seconds.
The success thus far in the Chase for the No. 78 team, and the dominance they displayed at Dover, is not something that surprised Truex.
“It’s just clicking,” he said. “Honestly, I feel like all season long we’ve been the same team, done the same things, and right now it’s just our time. We have done this all year long, and if it weren’t for bad luck I can’t tell you how many races we could have won this year.
“We got hot. We’ve got momentum. And hopefully we don’t lose it.”
Chase Elliott, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin and Jeff Gordon rounded out the top 10.
While the No. 78 Toyota was the class of the field for much of the race, for a long stretch it looked like it was Johnson’s – the all-time Dover wins leader – race to lose. Johnson was out front for 90 laps, but a costly pit road penalty required a pass through and put him a lap down.
Truex’s crew chief, Cole Pearn, said that Johnson’s bad luck was his team’s fortune, as he saw the No. 48 Chevrolet being as fast as his ride. Even as the race drew to a close, and Truex had a big lead, Pearn noted that a simple caution could have turned the whole race on its head.
“The biggest thing we were concerned about was where the 48 was,” he said. “They really drew our focus and we called the race off of their decisions. If we got a caution, and they got the lucky dog, they easily could have won.
“At the end of the day, when you come to Dover you have to beat Jimmie Johnson. And luckily it didn’t come that close.”
The win marks Truex’s second at Dover, as he won his first career race at the Monster Mile in 2007. It took until 2013 for him to claim his second career win, a span in which he said he never lost confidence in his ability to reach Victory Lane.
“I had enough good runs and flashes of excitement [in that time] that it always kept me motivated and pushing,” he said.
As the Dover fall race serves as a cutoff race in the Chase, only 11 other drivers continue into the season with Truex in a quest for the championship.
They include Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Hamlin and Kenseth; Hendrick Motorsports drivers Johnson and Elliott; Stewart Haas Racing drivers Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick; Penske Racing drivers Logano and Keselowski; and Richard Childress Racing driver Dillon.
Points are reset to 3,000 for the remaining 12 drivers and bonus points will not carry over, meaning the playing field has evened out for the remaining drivers.
It was a day to forget for Ganassi Racing teammates and Chase drivers Kyle Larson and Jamie McMurray, who came in to the race with hopes of advancing to the second round. Both experienced a number of issues with their cars, however, and along with Tony Stewart and Chris Buescher were eliminated from the Chase.
The second round of the Chase begins next week on Saturday, Oct. 8 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and right now Furniture Row Racing GM Joe Garone, Truex, Pearn and the rest of the team are feeling good about their chances.
“It’s amazing,” Garone said. “It’s about momentum and trying to get to that last race. We just have to keep knocking down fences.”
The “Citizen Soldier 400” featured only four cautions for 22 laps, and 14 lead changes among six drivers. The race was run in three hours, three minutes and 15 seconds at an average speed of 130.969 mph.
NASCAR action returns to Dover International Speedway in 2017 for two tripleheader weekends of action, starting with the June 2-4 race weekend, featuring the NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. The Cup and XFINITY series’ will return in the fall, along with the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East on Sept. 29-Oct. 1 for the Chase race weekend.