Martin Truex Jr.'s win of Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway is first short-track victory
Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway concluded with a Toyota in victory lane -- the #19 Joe Gibbs Racing entry driven by Martin Truex Jr. While Truex’s win was this sixth in the first nine races of 2019 for Joe Gibbs Racing, it was a first for Truex -- the 2017 champion’s first of 2019 and his first-career win on a short track in 81-career short-track races.
“I’m really excited to win here at Richmond,” Truex said. "I’ve always really enjoyed this track. I’ve always loved coming here. 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. Thanks to Auto Owners - a lot of Auto Owners people here. Toyota Owners 400 – to win here in a Toyota was huge. I’ve got my buddy up there. I just won him 10 grand. We’re just really excited. Everybody at JGR is doing a great job and with Toyota. Just a blessing to drive these race cars and have an awesome team. We’ve been chipping away at it, and hopefully, we can get better from here on out.”
Truex led 186 of the 400 laps that made up the race, but after a green-flag cycle of pit stops that began with about 85 laps remaining, Truex had to hold off a closing Clint Bowyer, and then, Joey Logano.
“I was struggling the last 40 laps,” Truex said. "I had no front turn. I was just real, real tight in 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. They had a tough year and a tough week last week. We beat up on them pretty good all week after Bristol, and they had the best stop of the year tonight. Just really proud of everyone. Really, really happy to get our first win with Gibbs and, definitely, our first short-track win is pretty awesome too.”
Bowyer had taken second just before the cycle, and after final stops, he closed on Truex. But with four laps remaining, Bowyer was passed by Logano, who also closed in on Truex but was unable to make a pass for the lead.
“We had a car that was capable of winning for the third week straight and we didn’t win,” Logano 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 gotta get faster there. That is when we lost control of the race at that point and fell back to third and had a decent green-flag cycle that got us up, and then, we reeled in the 19 [Truex] and the 14 [Bowyer] from pretty far back. I was watching them race and thought that if I was just patient and saved my tires, I saw them coming off the corner sideways every time. They were a little faster than me, but I knew they were going to kill their stuff and they did. I got there. I was just a couple laps late getting there. I was able to get to the 19 but it just wasn’t enough. It is kind of a double-edge sword. You go to the bottom and you can’t get the drive to clear ‘em, and getting to the outside is pretty tough. Just couldn’t get there. Ran out of time. Needed a few more laps.”
Logano, instead, finished second and Bowyer third.
“We still struggle,” Bowyer said. “We struggle on Fridays. We don't unload good. We are definitely getting beat speed-wise. Long run-wise, we slowly but surely run them down. It is frustrating. You get out there, and I ran him down. I was faster on a long run than him, but by the time you get to him, your stuff is pretty wore out, and with this aero package, you are so aero dependent behind those cars that you get terrible tight. When I got behind him, I knew that wasn’t the place to be, so I changed that. I lost. It sucks. Then, the 22 [Logano] got to my outside. I knew better than to let him out there, but I felt like when I was running high that I was probably losing ground to him. In hopes of still trying to win the race, I needed to stay on the bottom and hope that he slipped up in traffic or something. Next thing you know, I lost my nose down there, and the 22 got to the outside. If I didn’t give up that spot the 4 [Kevin Harvick] was gonna get me, too. You had to give up one to save one.”
Although Truex led most of the race, he failed to win either of the 100-lap stages that made up the first half of the race. Instead, the opening stage win went to Kyle Busch and the second to Logano.
Busch was dominant early in the race, taking the lead from pole sitter Kevin Harvick and running up front until a pit-road speeding penalty during a lap-128 caution for a Kyle Larson wreck. Larson had made an unscheduled pit stop because of a tire rub on lap 116, but another tire problem sent him into the wall and out of the race.
Busch was able to return to the top-10 but he was unable to return to the race lead. He wound up eighth at the checkered flag.
Truex inherited the lead from Busch’s speeding penalty and led most of the remaining laps. Logano passed him for the top spot, though, with six laps remaining in the second stage.
Truex retook the lead from Logano by getting out of the pits ahead of him during a caution for a Michael McDowell wreck that resulted from a right-rear tire problem on lap 243.
Logano’s Team Penske teammate, Brad Keselowski, also was able to take the lead from Truex, doing so with a pass on lap 134. But on lap 293, Truex retook the top position. Aside from laps during green-flag stops, Truex led the remaining distance.
After leading the first 30 laps of the race, Harvick finished fourth.
Denny Hamlin rounded out the top-five after starting in the back because of a post-qualifying/pre-race inspection failure. He was one of eight drivers who had qualifying times disallowed and starting in the back because of failed inspections. He was, though, the only one of the group to finish the race in the top-10.
“We really closed on the leaders there at the end,” Hamlin said. “We were fast, really fast, the last 20 laps. We just didn’t have enough time. We battled from the back and really couldn’t gain a whole lot on restarts, but just really grinded our way two or three positions each run and found our way up in the top-five there at the end. I could at least see the leaders. Certainly, a great day for our FedEx Camry. We wanted to win, but we just didn’t have the winning car. We would have liked to have tuned it during happy hour; we just didn’t have enough time.”
Two other drivers who started in the back because of inspection issues, Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones, got into the top-10 of the running order at some point in the race. Suarez was in the top-10 by the end of the first stage, and by lap 200, both Suarez and Jones were in the top-10 for the conclusion of stage two. But by the checkered flag, both had fallen outside the top-10. Jones finished 14th after a slow stop for the insertion of a wheel spacer. Suarez finished 18th.
Other top-10 finishers included Austin Dillon, who was the highest-finishing Chevrolet driver in sixth; Keselowski in seventh; Ryan Newman ninth; and Paul Menard finished 10th.