Martin Truex Jr. captures first short-track win in Cup at Richmond Raceway
By Rick Minter / Andrews McMeel Syndication
With a win in Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway, Martin Truex Jr. fixed one of the few weak spots on his resume. He won a Cup race on a short track after going winless in his first 80 starts on tracks under one mile in length.
The fact that Truex took so long to win a Cup race on a short track was strange, given that he grew up racing short tracks and won short-track races at Bristol, Indianapolis Raceway Park and Memphis Motorsports Park during his march to two titles in the series now known as Xfinity.
It wasn’t surprising that Truex’s breakthrough short-track win came at Richmond. In the five races there leading up to Saturday night, Truex had led 675 laps but never made it to Victory Lane. On Saturday, he led 186 circuits and held on over a race-ending 148-lap, green-flag run to the finish despite fighting poor handling on his No. 19 Toyota.
He took the lead from Brad Keselowski for good with 79 circuits remaining, then held off late charges from Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano to get his 20th career Cup win and his first since joining Joe Gibbs Racing at the start of the season. Logano finished second, ahead of Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin.
Truex’s win means that after nine races no team other than Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske has won in Cup in 2019.
Gibbs has six wins, including three with Kyle Busch and two with Denny Hamlin, while Penske has three, two with Keselowski and one with Logano.
Truex said in his winner’s interview that he was relieved to get his first short-track win and glad to get it at Richmond.
“We’ve been so strong the last couple seasons and led so many laps and had some real, real heartbreakers, some that were really tough, some really tough losses,” he said. “Sometimes those things are hard to get through, but they make you stronger and make you appreciate the good days.”
He said his pit crew, which struggled the week before at Bristol, had a good night at Richmond and helped him stay up front when it counted.
“We didn’t have the best car, and it worked out the way we needed it to, thanks to a great team and a pit crew,” he said. “They stepped up [at Richmond], and they did a great job. They got us to the lead and put us in control of the race and were really the difference.”
Truex admitted he had some anxious moments when Bowyer and Logano were hounding him in the late stages of the race.
“I knew I was in trouble with 35 to go,” he said. “I mean, my car got really tight. I couldn’t get it to turn. … I knew what lap times they were running, and I knew what I could run, and I knew once they started closing the gap, I was having to over-drive my car, and I was just making it worse.
“I just tried to save a tiny little bit, if I could, until they got to me. And from there it was just try not to screw up and try not to give them a free shot at you.”
Truex said the new aero rules made it a close race at the end even without the benefit of late caution flags to tighten the field.
“The real reason that race was so good at the end and so exciting was because none of us had any air on our cars,” he said. “The guys on the tail end of the lead lap right in front of me, I was faster than them, but I couldn’t get any closer. I had no air, just as [Bowyer] and [Logano] didn’t, and we all were just searching for something and sliding, and we had no grip at all.
“So that’s what made it a cool race. I was honestly glad we were able to hold them off. It wasn’t going to be much longer. I was struggling, so it feels good to get it.”
A frustrated Bowyer said he could track down Truex but couldn’t pass him.
“I ran him down,” Bowyer said. “I was faster on a long run than him, but by the time you get to him, your stuff is pretty worn out. And with this aero package, you are so aero-dependent behind those cars that you get terribly tight. …
“I lost. It sucks.”
Logano also lamented the fact that he got behind late and couldn’t catch Truex in time to pass him.
“We had a car that was capable of winning for the third week straight and we didn’t win,” he said. “That part is frustrating. We need to clean up some mistakes on our end. We lost the lead there on a pit stop. We’ve got to get faster there. That is when we lost control of the race and fell back to third.
“We had a decent green-flag cycle that got us up and then we reeled in [Truex and Bowyer] from pretty far back. … Ran out of time. Needed a few more laps.”
Photo caption: Martin Truex Jr.’s victory at Richmond snapped an 80-race Cup losing streak at tracks less than a mile long. Matt Sullivan/Getty Images for NASCAR