Truex reigns supreme under the lights at Martinsville

In NASCAR’s first night race at Martinsville Speedway, Martin Truex Jr. captured his first NASCAR Cup Series win of the season in the Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at the paper clip-shaped track. With the victory, Truex achieved his second consecutive win at Martinsville, his eighth driving for Joe Gibbs Racing and the 27th of his Cup career. The win was also the first for former lead engineer James Small as a crew chief.

The starting lineup was based on a random draw. Ryan Blaney, who achieved his 100th top-five NASCAR national touring series career finish last Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, drew the pole position. Aric Almirola started on the front row for the second consecutive race. Joey Gase started at the rear of the field and was assessed a pass-through penalty at the start of the race due to his car failing pre-race technical inspection five times.

When the green flag waved, Almirola prevailed on the outside lane to jump to an early lead. It did not take long for the first caution to fly on the fourth lap due to fallen debris in Turn 2 that came off of Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet, where Dillon sustained a flat right-rear tire at the start.


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When the race resumed on the 13th lap, Almirola was able to clear Blaney on the inside lane in Turn 2 to retain the lead. Behind, Bowyer, who restarted in the second row on the outside lane, dropped multiple positions as he was overtaken by Joey Logano, Truex, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Chase Elliott. By Lap 16, Logano moved into second followed by Truex. Like Bowyer, Blaney lost positions to the Busch brothers after being stuck on the outside lane.

On Lap 20, Logano took the lead from Almirola as Truex quickly moved into second. The Busch brothers and Elliott also advanced into the top five as Almirola dropped to sixth in three laps. By Lap 30, Logano held a two-second advantage over Truex and Kurt Busch. Behind the leaders, Jimmie Johnson, who started 21st, was in seventh and Corey LaJoie, who started 25th, was in 13th. Almirola and Blaney, both of whom started on the front row, had fallen to 10th and 11th. In addition, Brad Keselowski, who started sixth, fell to 18th while Denny Hamlin, who started 12th, dropped to 21st. Ten laps later, Elliott, who moved to second five laps earlier, was more than three seconds behind Logano, followed by Kurt Busch, Bowyer, Johnson and Kevin Harvick while Truex fell back to seventh. Almirola and Blaney continued to fade in the running order and outside the top 10 due to handling issues.

By Lap 42, Hamlin and Keselowski were lapped by Logano. Three laps later, Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron and Bubba Wallace were running in sixth, seventh and 13th while Michael McDowell was making his way in the top 10.

When the competition caution flew on Lap 60, Logano was ahead by nearly nine seconds and had lapped a multitude of names that included Keselowski, Hamlin, Cole Custer, Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon, Blaney, Christopher Bell, John Hunter Nemechek, Matt Kenseth, Almirola, Kyle Busch and Alex Bowman. By then, 18 cars were scored on the lead lap with Tyler Reddick being the last, but Bowman was able to receive the free pass under caution as the first car scored one lap behind. Under caution, the leaders pitted and Logano retained the lead followed by Elliott, Bowyer, DiBenedetto, Byron and Johnson. Kyle Busch, who was lapped, also pitted to have damage repaired as a result of making contact with the wall.

When the race restarted on Lap 68, Logano took off with the lead while Elliott and Bowyer battled against one another for second. By the next lap, Bowyer cleared Elliott in Turn 2 as Elliott settled in third in front of Byron. By Lap 80, Logano held a lead less than half a second over Bowyer followed by Elliott while Kurt Busch moved to fourth over Byron. DiBenedetto, Johnson and McDowell were in seventh, eighth and 10th while Wallace, Chris Buescher, Ryan Preece, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Reddick were in the top 15. Hamlin, who was stuck in 31st, was reporting overheating problems to his No. 11 Toyota.

By Lap 100, Logano was leading above a second over Bowyer. Meanwhile, Kurt Busch was in third followed by Elliott, Truex, Byron, Harvick, Johnson, DiBenedetto and Wallace. Blaney was in 20th, Keselowski was in 24th, Kyle Busch was in 25th and Kenseth and Almirola were in 27th and 28th. Two laps later, Harvick, running seventh, reported a dead battery to his No. 4 Ford and was told he could go 180 more laps before he needed repairs.

Ten laps later, the caution returned when Timmy Hill, who was in position to receive the free pass and return on the lead lap, stalled on pit road. Under caution, the leaders pitted except for LaJoie. Following the pit stops, Wallace exited first after taking two tires while Logano, the first with four fresh tires, followed behind in second. Bowyer, Johnson, Truex and Harvick exited behind Logano. During the caution, Blaney returned on the lead lap while Stenhouse Jr. was nabbed with a speeding penalty.

With 10 laps remaining in the first stage, the race restarted and LaJoie prevailed on the inside lane to retain the lead while Logano and Bowyer went three-wide with Wallace to move up to second and third. By Turn 4 the following lap, Logano was back in the lead. A lap later, Bowyer moved to second followed by Johnson as LaJoie drifted toward the back. Meanwhile, Wallace was locked in a heated battle with Truex for fourth. While a multitude of battles between competitors ensured, Logano was able to drive away and win the first stage by half a second over Bowyer. Johnson finished third followed by Truex and Wallace while Elliott, Kurt Busch, Harvick, DiBenedetto and Byron finished in the top 10.

Under the stage break, most of the leaders remained on track while others like Elliott, Kurt Busch, Byron, Wallace, Ryan Newman and Blaney pitted. The following lap, Truex, who remained on track in the top five, made an unscheduled pit stop to have his right-front fender repaired as a result of damaging it following on-track contact with Harvick. In addition, Truex was penalized for a commitment line violation while trying to enter pit road, which forced him to restart in 22nd. Austin Dillon, who was still multiple laps behind, was also penalized for a commitment line violation.

The second stage started on Lap 140 and Logano retained the lead after clearing Bowyer in Turn 2. Johnson settled in third while DiBenedetto and McDowell battled for fourth. Ten laps later, Logano maintained his advantage by half a second over Bowyer while all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers were in the top 10. During this time, Reddick was in 10th, McDowell had fallen back to 11th and Erik Jones was the highest-running Toyota driver in 18th. By Lap 170, Johnson was in second and was trailing Logano by more than a second. Blaney, who was a lap behind early in the race and restarted 14th, was back in the top 10 in eighth, Wallace was in 13th and Truex and Keselowski were in 21st and 22nd. 

With the race settling in a long green-flag run, Logano maintained his advantage by more than a second over Johnson and started to encounter lapped traffic as the field settled in single-file racing. On Lap 202, Johnson, who was able to narrow his deficit to Logano when Logano caught lapped traffic, made his move on the inside lane and took the lead, where he started to stretch his advantage to half a second. By Lap 220, Johnson extended his lead to above a second over Blaney, who overtook teammate Logano for second. Harvick, Elliott, Bowman and Byron were running fourth through seventh while Wallace worked his way back to eighth. Kurt Busch and Bowyer were in the bottom half of the top 10 while Keselowski was in 16th. Truex was mired in 19th while his teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin were in 25th and 27th.

By Lap 230, Johnson extended his advantage to more than two seconds over Blaney, more than three seconds over Logano and four seconds over Harvick. By Lap 250, Johnson was ahead by 1.5 seconds over Blaney, more than five seconds over Logano and more than six seconds over Harvick. Wallace had worked his way back to sixth while Keselowski was in 12th. Truex was in 16th, the highest-running Toyota driver, while Bowyer had fallen back to 18th and was lapped. 

Uncontested, Johnson cruised to the second stage win, his first of the season, above a second over Blaney. Logano, Bowman and Harvick finished in the top five while Wallace, Byron, Elliott, Kurt Busch and Reddick finished in the top 10. Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Johnson exited pit road first followed by Blaney, Logano, Bowman, Harvick, Wallace and Byron. During the caution, Byron was sent to the rear of the field after being penalized for an uncontrolled tire violation.

The final stage started with 229 laps remaining as Johnson and Blaney battled against one another for one full lap. A lap later, Blaney used the high lane to clear Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet for the lead entering Turn 4. The following lap, Logano made his move on the inside lane to move into second. Behind the leaders, Bowman began to develop a left-rear tire rub after making contact with Keselowski.

With 216 laps remaining, Logano moved back to the lead after passing Blaney in Turn 3. By then, Johnson dropped to fifth as Harvick and Elliott moved up to third and fourth. Sixteen laps later, with 200 to go, Logano settled to a lead nearly half a second over Blaney as only 16 competitors were scored on the lead lap. Keselowski moved into fifth after overtaking Johnson while Bowman was in seventh despite the mild tire rub to his No. 88 Chevrolet. Reddick and Truex were eighth and ninth, Wallace was in 10th while battling Kurt Busch and Newman and Byron were in 13th and 15th.

With 175 to go, the caution returned when David Starr spun through Turns 1 and 2 and made contact with the outside wall after being tapped by Jones. At the time, Blaney, who took the lead nineteen laps earlier, was ahead by nearly a second over teammates Keselowski and Logano followed by Harvick, Johnson, Elliott and Bowman. Under caution, the leaders pitted and Logano was able to exit first followed by Keselowski, Johnson, Elliott and Truex while Blaney fell back to eighth. The situation went from bad to worse for Blaney, who was sent to the rear of the field due to a crew member jumping over the pit wall too early.

With 168 to go, the race restarted and Logano cleared Keselowski by Turn 2 to maintain the lead. Keselowski settled in second while Elliott battled on the outside lane to move into fourth over teammate Johnson followed by Truex, who rallied from his commitment line violation at the conclusion of the first stage.

With 150 to go, a three-way battle for the lead started brewing as Keselowski drew himself right to the rear bumper of Logano’s No. 22 Ford with Elliott right behind Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford. During this time, Almirola made a pit stop to have the batteries changed due to an alternator issue to his No. 10 Ford. By the time he returned, he was 13 laps behind the leaders.

With 136 to go, as the leaders approached heavy lapped traffic, Keselowski moved aggressively on the inside lane to take the lead after Logano was pinned behind the lapped car of LaJoie on the outside lane. A lap later, Truex moved into second as Logano slipped to third followed by Elliott and Harvick. Six laps later, Truex emerged with the lead. By then, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates (Kyle Busch, Jones and Hamlin) were running 20th through 22nd. During this time, Johnson was in seventh, Roush Fenway Racing teammates Newman and Buescher were in the top 10 behind DiBenedetto and Wallace was in 12th, one position ahead of Blaney.

With 103 to go, the caution flew when rookie Quin Houff spun entering Turn 2. Under caution, the leaders pitted and Truex exited first followed by Keselowski, Logano, Elliott, Bowman, Harvick and Johnson. 

When the race restarted with 97 to go, Truex took off with the lead and Logano moved into second over Keselowski while Bowman, racing with a damaged left-rear fender, moved into fourth over teammate Elliott. At the time the race resumed to green, Austin Dillon exited his car on pit road and had to be cooled off due to being exposed to fumes and heat as a result of the knocked out crushed panels from the cut tire Dillon sustained at the start of the race. Dillon would end his night in the garage and on a stretcher headed for the infield care center while receiving oxygen and fluids to continue to cool off.

With 75 to go, Truex settled to a lead of nearly a second over Logano. Meanwhile, Blaney, who rallied from his late pit road penalty, was in fifth followed by Bowman while Johnson had fallen to 10th ahead of Newman. Byron was in 12th followed by Bowyer while Wallace had fallen back to 17th.

As the laps continued to dwindle, Truex extended his advantage to two seconds over teammates Logano and Keselowski with Blaney pursuing by three seconds and Elliott by four seconds. With 40 to go, Truex settled to a lead nearly three seconds over Blaney, who overtook his teammates and was trying to pursue Truex. Twenty laps later, Truex extended his advantage to four seconds as only 15 competitors were scored on the lead lap. With 10 to go, Truex stabilized his lead to nearly five seconds over Blaney and nearly six laps for Keselowski as he started to approach lapped traffic. 

Despite the heavy lapped traffic, Truex cautiously worked his way through each corner and remained uncontested through the final circuits as he claimed the checkered flag to win by more than four seconds over Blaney and become the seventh winner of this year’s Cup Series season. 

Prior to the 2019 Cup season, Truex was 0-80 in short track wins. After tonight, he has won four of the last six short-track races.

“We’ve been working a long time on trying to figure this place out and just chipping away at it,” Truex said. “The last couple of years, we’ve been really strong. [October 2018] was a heartbreaker going at the end of the race there, last year to get the win and this year. Hats off to the guys. We started the first run, pushed the right-front tire off and were terrible. Really good adjustments by the guys, I wanna thank all of them, SiriusXM, Bass Pro [Shops], Auto-Owners [Insurance], everybody that makes this possible. Congrats to James [Small] on his first win. He’s doing an awesome job. It’s a big day for us. We did what we had to do. Thanks to everybody back at [Joe Gibbs Racing] for working through all these tough times and everything else. It feels a little strange out here, to be honest.”

Blaney rallied from struggling early in the race to finish second for his fifth top-five finish of the season followed by teammates Keselowski and Logano while Elliott settled in fifth. Bowman, DiBenedetto, Byron, Kurt Busch and Johnson finished in the top 10 as only 14 competitors finished on the lead lap.

The race featured 14 lead changes with eight different leaders. There were seven cautions for 52 laps.

Harvick continues to lead the regular-season series standings by 28 points over Logano and 47 over Elliott. 

Results:

1. Martin Truex Jr., 132 laps led

2. Ryan Blaney, 34 laps led

3. Brad Keselowski, five laps led

4. Joey Logano, 234 laps led, Stage 1 winner

5. Chase Elliott, one lap led

6. Alex Bowman

7. Matt DiBenedetto

8. William Byron

9. Kurt Busch

10. Jimmie Johnson, 70 laps led, Stage 2 winner

11. Bubba Wallace

12. Ryan Newman

13. Chris Buescher

14. Michael McDowell

15. Kevin Harvick, one lap behind

16. Tyler Reddick, one lap behind

17. Clint Bowyer, one lap behind

18. Corey LaJoie, one lap behind, five laps led

19. Kyle Busch, one lap behind

20. Erik Jones, three laps behind

21. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., three laps behind

22. Ty Dillon, three laps behind

23. Matt Kenseth, three laps behind

24. Denny Hamlin, three laps behind

25. John Hunter Nemechek, three laps behind

26. Ryan Preece, four laps behind

27. Daniel Suarez, six laps behind

28. Christopher Bell, six laps behind

29. Cole Custer, six laps behind

30. Brennan Poole, six laps behind

31. J.J. Yeley, seven laps behind

32. David Starr, 21 laps behind

33. Aric Almirola – OUT, Battery, 19 laps led

34. Quin Houff, 26 laps behind

35. Joey Gase, 36 laps behind

36. Garrett Smithley, 50 laps behind

37. Austin Dillon – OUT, Fatigue

38. Reed Sorenson – OUT, Electrical

39. Timmy Hill – OUT, Fuel Pump

Next on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule is Homestead-Miami Speedway, which will occur on June 14 and cap off a quadruple-header weekend of racing in south Florida. The race will air at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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