EditorsNote: write-thru with quotes
One of the raps against driver Martin Truex Jr. during his Monster Energy NACAR Cup Series career has been his inability to win at a short track. On Saturday night, he rubbed out that rap when he won the Toyota Owners 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at the .75-mile Richmond Raceway.
Truex, who won the 2017 Cup Series championship while driving for the now-defunct Furniture Row Racing, took the lead for good with about 100 laps to go and went on to get his first victory for his new team — Joe Gibbs Racing.
It ended an 81-race futility streak at Cup short tracks.
“Really happy to get our first win with Gibbs. Definitely the first short-track win is pretty awesome, too,” Truex said.
“Really excited to win here in Richmond,” continued the 38-year-old New Jersey native. “I’ve really enjoyed this track. The short-track win — everybody kept asking me when it was going to happen. Tonight, we didn’t have the best car, but we lost here with the best car a bunch of times, so we just fought and battled.”
The victory was No. 20 for Truex on his career and came in his 486th start in the series. A year ago, Truex won four races and finished second in his bid for a second championship.
To get that victory, Truex had to negotiate a crowded track and hold off two-time 2019 winner Joey Logano of Team Penske.
“I was struggling the last 40 laps,” Truex admitted. “I had no front tire and was just real, real tight that last run. Just had to hold him off. Being out front was important tonight.”
Logano, who finished second at .17 seconds back, said, “Ran out of time there. I figured something out there towards the end. Got a decent run off of (Turn) 2 on the last lap ... and thought maybe could get to the outside. Starting getting there, but got tight and couldn’t turn underneath him.”
“When you’re frustrated with second, it’s a good sign of where your team is,” he said, finding the bright side. “Couple little things kept us from winning.”
The victory was Truex’s first in his last 25 races. He became the fifth driver to win a race in 2019.
Stewart-Haas Racing’s Clint Bowyer finished third.
Bowyer was running second late in the race and looked to have a good chance to get his first win of the year on the waning laps but succumbed to a degrading race car.
“We drove up to (Truex), and you get terrible tight behind people,” he said. “We was already fighting our front end. I got to him and couldn’t keep the nose with air on it, and it got really tight. And all of a sudden Joey ran us down.”
Rounding out the top five were Bowyer’s teammate Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin of Joe Gibbs Racing.
Points-leader Kyle Busch appeared to be a strong contender to win his fourth race of the season and second straight as he took the lead from pole-sitter Harvick on Lap 32 and then dominated the early portion of the race as he won the first stage. But during a pit stop early in Stage 2, Busch was flagged for speeding on pit road.
That gave Truex his shot. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver led the next 63 laps but gave up the lead to Logano with six laps to go in Stage 2, and Logano went on to win the stage.
Truex stayed near the front of the field and on Lap 293 of the 400-lapper, he took a lead he would not surrender.
—Field Level Media