SONOMA, Calif. – On a weekend where Toyota Racing Development celebrated its 40th anniversary, Toyota Camrys ruled the roost at Sonoma Raceway, but none was stronger than Martin Truex Jr.
Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn used stellar pit strategy to grab the lead at the start of the final stage in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350, then never relinquished command en route to his fourth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win of the year and second in a row at the Northern California road course.
The Mayetta, N.J., native hit pit road just before the end of each of the first two stages, giving him track position at the start of both the second and third stages when those ahead of him got their service.
Those moves made all the difference, as Truex led three times for a race-high 59 laps before holding off his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch in the closing moments.
“That was just digging down deep, trying to be smooth and hitting my marks,” noted Truex, whose win was his third overall at Sonoma. “Luckily, I was able to have a big enough gap where I could settle in and not feel too much pressure. It was definitely difficult, though. That was the longest run of the race there at the end for us on tires. It felt terrible the last 20 laps, and the last 10 (laps), it was like we were on ice – there was no grip anywhere.
“This group, man, they’re unbelievable,” Truex added. “What a season we’ve turned this into. Hopefully we can keep this going.”
Polesitter William Byron and Denny Hamlin won the first two stages on Sunday, but it was Truex’s pit stop coming to two to go in second stage that gave him the lead when those who stayed out to earn stage points came in for service under caution on lap 42.
From there, Truex held serve out front until making his final pit stop with 27 to go, handing the point to Busch for three laps as the 2015 champion and two-time Sonoma winner played the strategy of having slightly fresher tires in the final laps in hopes of running Truex down.
It nearly worked, too, as Busch carved an eight-second advantage for Truex down to just over a second inside of 10 laps to go, but could get no closer despite lap traffic that impeded Truex down the stretch.
Busch ultimately finished second, 1.861 seconds adrift, and noted after the race that he used a little too much trying to catch Truex – exactly what Pearn was hoping would happen after Truex’s final pit stop.
“Any time I had to lean on the left rear, I just didn’t have the drive that I needed,” noted Busch. “I tried to hold on to it, trying to save it. I knew that was going to be our problem. That was our problem all day long. When you get closer, you’re like, ‘Okay, I can get him, so I’d better go and pounce on him fast, so that he doesn’t have the time to pick up the pace.’ It didn’t work, though.
“He was obviously saving a lot,” Busch added. “I knew he was going to be saving a lot and probably have enough to be able to hold us off, and I was right. I still tried everything I could to get there and ran really hard. … It sucks to finish second to a teammate, but it’s good for the company.”
Truex and Busch were so dominant on Sunday, they finished more than 33 seconds clear of third-place Ryan Blaney.
Behind Blaney, Matt DiBenedetto charged through traffic to earn a career-best fourth-place finish for Leavine Family Racing, sporting a throwback paint scheme in honor of Darrell Waltrip, who called his final race in the FOX Sports broadcast booth on Sunday at Sonoma.
Denny Hamlin crossed fifth to give Toyota four of the top five finishing positions. Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Erik Jones, Aric Almirola and Kyle Larson completed the top 10.
Larson’s run on Sunday was his best-career Sonoma finish. The California native has won the last three poles at the 12-turn road course, but has yet to find victory lane.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.