RICHMOND, Va. — Martin Truex Jr. took the checkered flag for the first time at a short track in his 14 full-time seasons in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
The No. 19 Toyota driver won the Toyota Owners 400 on Saturday night at Richmond Raceway — his first victory after 80 winless short-track events in NASCAR's premier series. It was also his first win in 2019 as the newest driver for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Truex nabbed the lead with 79 laps remaining and never relinquished it, surviving hard-charging Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer in the final laps. He finished with a race-high 186 laps led.
“Being out front was really the key, and just trying to do all I could to not screw it up and hold those guys off,” Truex said in victory lane after his 20th career Cup win. He’s now automatically qualified for the 16-driver, 10-race playoffs in the fall.
“It’s been an up-and-down start to the year, but I feel like we’ve got a great team, and we can continue to do this.”
Like the first eight races of the season, the ninth was dominated by JGR and Team Penske drivers. Aside from pole-sitter and Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick’s first 30 laps out front, the majority of the race was controlled by the JGR and Penske teams, which account for all the winners this season so far.
With Truex, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, JGR drivers have won six of the first nine races.
Martin Truex Jr. celebrates after winning the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway. (Photo: Amber Searls, USA TODAY Sports)
Truex and Team Penske's Brad Keselowski and Logano traded the lead with each other throughout the second half of the race. SHR driver Bowyer was running second and spent the final 100 laps trying to chase down leader Truex but just couldn’t get there.
Logano passed Bowyer with three laps remaining for second place and rode Truex’s bumper before running out of time. Penske’s defending Cup Series champion was the runner-up and just .178 seconds behind Truex.
That battle was AWESOME. Retweet to congratulate Martin Truex Jr. on his WIN in Richmond (and his first career victory on a short track)! pic.twitter.com/MN6lAm2mys
“It’s a challenging race track,” Bowyer said after finishing third. “I got to him, and I couldn’t keep the nose with air on it, and it got really tight. And as I kept running in his wake, I kept getting tighter and tighter, and all of a sudden, Joey run us down. …
“All in all, it was a good day for us. Just man, damn it. You hate to get that close.”
After Truex, Logano and Bowyer, Harvick finished fourth and JGR driver Denny Hamlin closed out the top five.
“We were close, just not close enough,” said Logano, who won the third race of the season in March at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“Fun race. Just, gosh. Three weeks in a row I felt like we had a car that could win the race, and we haven’t won. That’s a little frustrating. But when you’re frustrated with second, that’s a good sign about where your team is at.”
STAGE 2: With just four laps remaining in the second stage, Logano pushed past then-leader Truex, who got loose and slid a little out of his line.
For the majority of the stage, Truex took control and was racing towards the lead on Lap 132 when Kyle Larson made contact with the Turn 1 wall, bringing out the caution and suffering enough damage to end his day.
Kyle Larson is done for the night. Here's what happened: pic.twitter.com/bm2OdZs7NI
When the cars came in to pit on that caution early in the second stage, then-leader Kyle Busch was busted for speeding on pit road and was dropped to the back of the field of cars still on the lead lap to 26th. That’s when Truex took over and led for 63 laps in the second stage before Logano stole the lead and the lone playoff point awarded to the winner of each stage.
To close out Stage 2, Logano and Truex were followed by Harvick, Keselowski, Bowyer, Suárez, Kurt Busch, Erik Jones, Chris Buescher and Paul Menard in the top 10.
STAGE 1: It took Kyle Busch all of 30 laps to steal the lead away from pole-sitter Harvick and led for the remaining 70 laps in the first stage. Busch and the No. 18 Toyota squad continue proving they’re among the teams to beat on a weekly basis, even when they don’t take the checkered flag.
Busch won the first stage — it marked his fifth stage win of the season — and earned another playoff point. Logano was second, followed by Truex, Harvick, Bowyer, Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Buescher, Menard and Daniel Suárez to round out the top 10.
After just 40 laps, NASCAR threw the yellow flag for a planned competition caution. Because of rain on-and-off this weekend and throughout the night, the rubber and added traction remaining on the track was minimal, so the break gave teams an opportunity to evaluate and change their tires. Kyle Busch maintained his lead, winning the race off pit road and immediately jumped back out to an uncontested lead.
Follow Martinelli on Twitter @MMartinelli4.
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