DOVER, Del. – It may have taken an extra day due to weather, and he may have had to start at the rear, but Martin Truex Jr. made winning the Gander RV 400 at Dover Int’l Speedway look easy on Monday.
Truex didn’t take command of the race until the last lap of the second stage, thanks to inspection failures that relegated him to the back of the grid, but once he got to the front the No. 19 Toyota Camry was untouchable.
The Mayetta, N.J., native and 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion led 132 of the final 161 laps en route to his second win of the year, third at Dover and 21st of his career.
Notably, Truex’s first Cup Series win in 2007 came on a Monday at Dover after a weather postponement. Twelve years later, he found himself back in victory lane at the one-mile concrete oval in similar fashion.
“To be back here in victory lane at this place feels incredible; I’m so thankful for this team,” said Truex. “What a race car we had today. We came here with a new setup this time, because we had kind of an older setup that we won with in 2016, but lately it’s just been good here and not quite good enough. Today, it was a lot of work and it was tough, but it was good enough. This race car was incredible
“It’s pretty special with a new group of guys to now have two wins together,” Truex continued. “I’m really, really proud to drive these (Joe Gibbs Racing) Toyotas.”
Truex started 33rd on Monday but took just 86 of the 400 laps to pass 25 cars, finding himself solidly in eighth before a late yellow and subsequent pit strategy shuffled him back to 12th at the first stage break.
He didn’t stay there long, however.
Truex methodically worked his way forward during the second 120-lap stage, and by lap 195, was around Kyle Larson and into the top five, where he would remain for virtually the rest of the day.
Traffic allowed him to close even further, and with 11 laps to go – as leaders Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick fought lap traffic – Truex made it his mission to pounce. He slipped past Elliott for third with 12 to go in the second stage and powered around Harvick and into second eight laps later.
From there, Truex applied pressure on Bowman until the latter overdrove turn one on the final lap of the second stage, opening up the bottom and allowing Truex to cruise to the stage victory.
Once the final stage went green with 151 to go, only a round of green-flag pit stops with 80 to go kept Truex from leading the entire way. He dropped to pit lane on lap 320, taking four tires and letting the strategy for the rest of the field play out, while he waited in the wings to reclaim command for good.
Daniel Suarez, who pitted on lap 266 and could go longer on fuel than many of the frontrunners, cycled to the point on lap 327 and paced the field for 21 straight circuits, but his strategy gave up the ghost with 53 to go, giving Truex a lead he would never relinquish again.
Truex took the checkered flag in front by 9.501 seconds over Bowman, who also had to start from the rear but came through the field much like Truex did before earning his second-straight runner-up finish.
After climbing from his car, Bowman cracked a smile but was quick to note the physicality of the race.
“I’m worn out. This is physically the hardest race of the year,” he said. “I wish I had been in Martin’s way at the end of the race, but it just wasn’t meant to be there. We at least had a shot at it and congrats to them, because they ran a great race.
“This (No.) 88 team had a miserable start to the season, but we did a really good job resetting during the off week and we’ve come out strong since then,” Bowman added. “I’m proud of this one, for sure.”
Larson finally warded off the bad luck that has plagued him for most of the season to notch his first top-five finish of the year in 11 Cup Series starts, finishing third ahead of Harvick.
Polesitter Elliott crossed the line fifth after starting from the pole and leading a race-high 145 laps.
Erik Jones, Joey Logano, William Byron, Clint Bowyer and Kyle Larson completed the top 10.
Busch’s 10th-place finish matched Morgan Shepherd’s 1990 campaign for the most-consecutive top-10 finishes to start a Cup Series season in history, with 11 such results in the first 11 races.