RICHMOND, Va. – The lack of a short-track victory has been a thorn in Martin Truex Jr.’s side since he started his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career in 2006.
Truex pulled that thorn from his side Saturday at Richmond Raceway after holding off late-race challenges from Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano to earn his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series short-track victory in his 81st attempt.
“I’m really excited to win here at Richmond, I’ve always enjoyed this track,” Truex said after the 20th victory of his career in the Toyota Owners 400. “The short-track win, everybody kept asking me when it was going to happen. Tonight we didn’t have the best car, but we’ve lost here with the best car a bunch of times. We just fought, we battled.”
Truex, driving the No. 19 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, dominated much of Saturday’s race but found himself forced to defend his position at the front of the field during the final 100 laps after taking the lead from Brad Keselowski on lap 293.
With 100 laps left Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford Mustang seemed to come to life. He quickly chased down and dispatched Keselowski for second and began closing the gap on Truex at the front of the field.
The final round of pit stops followed a few laps later and a great pit stop from Truex’s crew gave him more than a two-second lead over Bowyer. Not to be outdone, Bowyer spent the next 20 laps chasing Truex back down and by lap 350 he was less than a second behind Truex.
It took Bowyer another 20 laps to track down Truex and begin challenging him for the lead. With 22 laps left Bowyer looked to the inside of Truex for the lead in turn one, but wasn’t able to complete the pass. He tried again in turn four and the pair stayed side-by-side for half a lap, with Truex retaining his position at the front.
While that was going on, third-place Logano was quickly closing the gap. With 15 laps left Logano caught and took a look under Bowyer for second, but quickly fell back in line.
The top-three ran nose-to-tail for the next few laps, with Bowyer and Logano not letting Truex escape. With four laps left Logano made his move on Bowyer, going to the outside to take second away.
That left only Truex for Logano to chase down, but he had less than four laps to do it. Logano was right with Truex at the white flag and he got a big run coming out of turn two, but he wasn’t able to do anything with it in turns three and four as Truex survived for his first victory on a short track in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
“I was struggling the last 40 laps,” Truex admitted. “I had no front turn. I just was real, real tight that last run. You just had to hold them off. Being out front was important tonight. Thanks to the pit crew, they kept us out there.
“Really, really happy to get our first win with (Joe) Gibbs and our first short-track win is pretty awesome too.”
Logano, who was looking for his second win of the season, said he found something in the last few laps that helped him close the gap on Truex.
“We were close, just not close enough. Ran out of time there,” said Logano, who won the second stage of the race. “I figured something out there towards the end, about 10 laps to go to make up some speed. Probably something that wouldn’t last for the long run, but something to make up some speed.
“Got a decent run off of two on the last lap and I was like man, I’ve got to figure out where I need to be here. I thought I could maybe get to the outside and roll momentum. I don’t know. I couldn’t roll the bottom and get enough drive off of four either way.”
Bowyer settled for third after challenging for the race lead throughout the final 50 laps. Kevin Harvick finished fourth after starting from the pole and leading 31 laps early in the race. Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin came home in fifth.
Kyle Busch won the first stage of the race in dominant fashion, but a pit road speeding penalty during the second stage dropped him to the rear of the field and he was never able to fully recover. He finished eighth.
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