DARLINGTON, S.C. — Martin Truex Jr. put on a strong drive in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 and had the race in check as the laps wound down, but the defending race winner blew a tire in Turn 3, costing him the win, and nursed his damaged car around to an eighth-place finish.
After the completion of the final cycle of green flag pit stops, Kevin Harvick cycled to the head of the field, with Kurt Busch and Truex in tow. Busch snagged the lead from his teammate with 47 laps to go, then lost it when Truex made a banzai move into Turn 1 with 42 to go.
The race was in his control from that point on. But then Denny Hamlin, who lost the lead with 55 to go when he overshot the entrance to pit road, moved his way through the running order on much fresher tires and took second with 20 to go. With 10 to go, the gap from Truex to Hamlin was less than two seconds. Coming to five to go, Hamlin was on Truex’s tail.
Entering Turn 3, Truex suffered a right-front tire blowout and hit the wall.
He said after the race that it wasn’t a hard hit.
“It was literally at the end of the backstretch. I was so high getting in the corner anyway that I only had six inches to go to hit it,” Truex said. “I literally stepped on the brake. The car turned right. I was a foot from the wall when the tire popped, and I just kind of glanced off it and glanced around the track. It really wasn’t bad at all, and I was actually able to make two laps with the thing on the inner liner and finish eighth. Not bad, just disappointing more than anything.”
Hamlin ducked underneath him to take the lead and drive on to victory. Truex, meanwhile, rode out the remaining two and a half laps and brought his car home to eighth.
While a solid finish nonetheless, Truex said it was “bittersweet” to come up two laps short. Especially on a night when he swept the stages, including edging out Kyle Larson to the line on the final lap of the first stage, which clinched him the regular season championship (and an extra 15 playoff points).
“Yeah, I mean, it was definitely a bittersweet night for us, to come up just two laps short there, blow a tire at the end after having no issues with tires all night and having such a good race car,” Truex said. “I don’t know if that last run was the longest one we made all night. I’m not really sure to be honest. I was kind of out there caught up driving my guts out at the end trying to hang on. It’s unfortunate we blew the tire, but really proud of everybody on this team for an amazing season so far, and to lock up the regular season points is a huge accomplishment for us, for our team. I feel like we’ve come a long way in just a few years together and continue to climb. Proud of everybody. Wish we could have won, but that’s the breaks. Sometimes they go your way, sometimes they don’t, and tonight we come up a little short. But definitely a lot to be proud of.”
Truex leaves Darlington with a 107-point lead over Kyle Busch.