Martin Truex Jr. became the first repeat winner of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season Sunday when he won the rain-delayed Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relieve 500, the eighth race of the season, at Martinsville Speedway. The win was Truex’s third in the last four races at Martinsville.
“This is unbelievable,” Truex said. “This place has become a playground for us, I guess. We didn’t have the best car all day, but we just kept working on it and never quit on it. Proud of James [Small, crew chief] and all the guys. This Bass Pro/Tracker Toyota Camry came on at the end, and that’s when it counts. There’s something about when the lights come on here; we’re really good, so that was cool.”
Chase Elliott finished second, and Denny Hamlin, who leads active drivers with five Martinsville wins, was third after leading a race-high 276 laps of the 500-lap race. William Byron finished fourth, and Kyle Larson was fifth.
“That’s just the cards we were dealt,” Hamlin said. “We had a really good short run car. We just didn’t have a good long run car. We saved a set of tires; we had the tire advantage, but we couldn’t get the car to turn on the long run. That was the bugaboo, you could say, but overall, the FedEx Camry team performed well. We had a really fast car for 20 laps or so, and then, it would just kind of go away. Fortunate for us, we had a great day and had ourselves a shot at it but just wasn’t quite good enough.”
Truex first took the lead from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Hamlin by beating him off pit road during the 15th and final caution of the race for Chase Briscoe on lap 452. Hamlin, though, retook the lead on the restart. After several laps of side-by-side racing between teammates, Truex took the lead for good on lap 485.
“It was pretty incredible, there, at the end,” Truex said. “The Bass Pro Toyota – James and the guys really hung with me all day. We never could get quite where we wanted it. It started getting dark and she came to life. Thankful to Reser’s Fine Foods, Bass Pro Shops, all of these great fans. Thank y’all for coming out. I hope y’all enjoyed it. We love seeing you. Just thanks to all of the partners – Auto Owners, Toyota, TRD, Sherwin Williams, Textron Aviation, Noble Airspace. We got so many people that help us out. I can’t believe we won here, again, after not having the dominate car here today, for sure. That was a lot of fun, there, racing at the end with Denny. We raced clean, and we were able to come out on top.”
Elliott, then, got by Hamlin with five laps remaining.
Ryan Blaney was second to Hamlin when the yellow flag waved for the last time, but he was fifth out of the pits and, then, was penalized for taking equipment out of his pit box when an air hose got hung under his car. Blaney wound up 11th at the checkered flag after leading 157 laps.
After Hamlin took the lead from pole sitter Joey Logano on lap four, Hamlin and Blaney combined to lead all laps until a lap-289 caution for a Cody Ware spin.
Hamlin, after taking his initial lead, remained up front Saturday night until the red flag waved for rain after the completion of 42 of the scheduled 500 laps. When the race resumed Sunday evening, Hamlin reassumed his position up front.
Blaney took stage wins on laps 130 and 260. He took his first stage win after passing Hamlin for the lead on lap 75. Hamlin retook the lead on the restart early in stage two on lap 141, but on lap 175, Blaney regained a lead he would maintain for the remainder of the second stage.
Blaney led 152 of the first 260 laps, while Hamlin ran up front for 104.
Pit strategies varied late in the second stage with the yellow flag waving twice in the final 20 laps of the stage. After pitting during the caution at the end of the stage, Blaney restarted the race in the 11th as Hamlin restarted with the lead after staying out.
Another driver, Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. got to the lead by being one of six drivers to stay out during a caution for a Cody Ware spin on lap 289. Hamlin was first among those who pitted and restarted seventh. Byron, one of the other drivers who pitted, got up to the lead on lap 315.
Hamlin was first off pit road to retake the lead during a caution that came out on lap 321 when one of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, Kyle Busch, spun.
Another of Hamlin’s JGR teammates, Christopher Bell, led a few laps by staying out during a lap-371 caution for an Erik Jones spin. But on lap 383, Hamlin retook the lead.
Blaney was back up to second to challenge Hamlin for the lead after a lap-386 multi-car crash on lap 386. The crash began with contact between Busch and Chris Buescher and collected at least 14 other cars. Daniel Suarez was among those collected, and his car caught fire. The race was red-flagged for track cleanup.
“It’s just unfortunate that we got caught up in it,” Brad Keselowski said. ”It looked like some guys got in front of me, and the track was blocked. I think I was just barely gonna get stopped in time, and somebody clobbered me from behind and just tore us up. It’s a bummer. I think we were really good. We drove up into the top-five and lost the power-steering. I was able to manhandle it around the race track, but I couldn’t get down pit road where you go to turn in your pit box. Every pit stop, it wasn’t my crew’s fault, I just couldn’t get the car stopped in the box and pointed the right way. That kind of got me in the back, and then, I got dumped. We recovered from that, and then, we got caught up in a wreck that we just didn’t look like I could miss. Just one of those compounding, frustrating short-track days, but we had decent speed. We just have to figure out why we lost the power-steering that kind of put us behind.”
Logano finished sixth after nearly going a lap down in the first half of the race.
“We weren’t very good,” Logano said. “It was kind of a confusing race for us. I thought we were decent yesterday the first run and, then, fired off on this first run and was like, ‘Uh oh.’ I had no rear grip and started fighting loose in and off. We almost went down a lap, but a good strategy play got us up toward the front, and a couple good changes got us closer to where I needed to be as well, and then, it was just kind of a slugfest, a grinding race from there. There were points I thought we were decent, and then, the next run, we were no good. Then we were pretty good, and, then, no good. We just kept jumping the fence back and forth, and trying to understand where to be was pretty tough. We almost got a top-five out of something that was a pretty challenging day. We got something out of it. I was expecting a lot more out of today, but we still got a sixth-place finish with our Shell/Pennzoil Mustang, which is just okay.”
Other top-10 finishers included Bell in seventh, Tyler Reddick in eighth, Kevin Harvick ninth and Kyle Busch in 10th.
BLUE-EMU MAXIMUM PAIN RELIEF 500 RESULTS