Martin Truex Jr. claimed his third NASCAR Cup Series win of 2021, 12 races into the season, Sunday when he took the checkered flag in the Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway. He remains the only multi-race winner, so far, this year.
“I thought at times it could have been better, but obviously, it was better than everybody else’s, and that’s the key with this low downforce,” Truex said of his car. “Even this thing was a handful at the end of those long runs. You just have no tires left and you are sliding all over the place, and you can’t get ahold of it. You are just trying to manage your stuff. Awesome job by our Auto Owners Camry team today. Everybody at JGR [Joe Gibbs Racing]. It was definitely a hot rod. It looked like all of our cars were pretty good, too. Good day for the company. I’m really happy to win on Mother’s Day. Happy Mother’s Day to all of the mom’s out there, especially mine.”
Truex dominated the race, leading 248 laps, including stage wins on lap 90 and lap 185. His second stage win came with a more than 14-second margin over then-second-place Kyle Busch.
“We just had a good balance,” Truex said. “The car would do what I wanted it to do. I just had to manage those long runs. It was really loose that last run. I was nervous when the 5 [Kyle Larson] was catching us. We got mired in some traffic, there, and that’s always tough. Thanks to Auto Owners, Bass Pro Shops, TRD, Toyota, Cessna, Noble Aerospace, Garmin, Oakley, everybody that helps us, Reser’s Fine Foods. We are really lucky to get to do this. I’m so lucky to get to drive for these guys. What an awesome team we have. Hopefully, we can keep this rolling.”
Kyle Larson came out second during the final cycle of green-flag pit stops in the final 50 laps. He closed on Truex and remained relatively close to the race leader for the rest of the race, looking to be the only driver to seriously challenge Truex for the win.
Larson, like everyone else, fell short, though, having to settle for second.
Two of Truex’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, also were in the top-five at the finish — Busch in third and Hamlin in fifth — to give JGR three cars in the top-five of the finishing order.
William Byron finished fourth.
After pole sitter Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Busch led laps early, Truex took his initial lead when Busch spun with a blown tire, bringing out the second caution of the race on lap 22. Once Truex took the lead, he never relinquished it on the race track.
In contrast, Keselowski’s race was a struggle. After leading the opening laps, he dropped through the fields. When he made an unscheduled stop after contact with the wall on lap 166, he was three laps down.
As Busch worked his way back toward the front, Hamlin ran second to Truex through most of the first 100 laps of the race.
Truex gave up the lead to pit during the first cycle of green-flag pit stops on lap 61. Ross Chastain stayed out longer to lead 10 laps before Truex retook the lead on lap 72, passing Chastain before Chastain made his stop.
Hamlin stayed out during a caution for Kurt Busch on lap 107 and restarted with the lead. But when the race restarted on lap 115, Truex, on newer tires, blew by to retake his customary position up front. Hamlin, with old tires, lost additional positions.
“I was racing hard, and there’s no give and take,” Busch said of his wreck with a lapped car. “Guy’s running for the Lucky Dog; you can’t fault him for that. But you still have to race the track and the give the room to the lead lap guys. But man, just got ran into, got taken out and we’re on this end of it. It’s been too many times. It’s been a rough year and this just adds to it.”
Truex gave up the lead, again, to pit during another green-flag cycle on lap 145. This time around, he cycled back to the lead on lap 150 with Byron in the second position. Busch got back to as high as second in the running order by lap 175, but Truex already had a lead of over 10 seconds.
Truex had a large enough lead when the race field cycled through pit stops again after lap 220 than he managed to maintain the lead during the cycle, even during his pit stop on lap 226.
Nine drivers finished on the lead lap. Kevin Harvick was sixth, Chase Elliott seventh, Ryan Blaney eight and Chris Buescher ninth.
“Not a bad day. We ran, kind of, top-10 all day and just kind of hit the wall one too many times,” Blaney said. “I hit it a few times, and the last time, I really got into it trying to protect fifth, there. I just hurt it a little too much. Overall, I am proud of the effort. Here and Richmond are places that I have struggled at in the past, and we have had some decent runs at those this year, and I am really looking forward to coming back to these two places in the playoffs, so that is big that we seem to be learning a lot.”
Ryan Newman finished 10th.
The yellow flag waved six times, but the final stage ran caution-free after the yellow flag at the end of the second stage. The first caution came early on lap six when Aric Almirola spun and hit the wall as a result of contact from Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
“I got wrecked. Pretty simple,” Almirola said. “We were really fast. We had to start last, and we were passing a bunch of cars. We were three-quarters of a second faster than the next 10 to 15 cars in front of us. We were passing about one a lap and I got to the 47 [Stenhouse] and passed him in the middle of [turns] one and two, and then, at the exit of two, I had to check up just a little bit, because I got tight, and he ran right into the back of me and wrecked me.”