Martin Truex Jr. left Martinsville Speedway one year ago wondering what might have been. This time around? Everyone else was wondering how in the world they could catch him in Sunday’s (Oct. 27) First Data 500.
Truex flat out dominated the final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series short track race of 2019. Leading a track record 464 of 500 laps, he held off William Byron and punched the first ticket to Homestead-Miami Speedway’s Championship 4. One year after Joey Logano bumped him out of the lead here on the final lap, Truex made sure this one was never left to chance.
“I don’t think anyone expected that,” Truex said of his dominant performance. “This racetrack in general, you really don’t see that. We really didn’t make any adjustments. We adjusted on it early, and it came to life.”
“Miami is awesome, but we wanted to win here for a long time. To win a grandfather clock is pretty special. Just really proud of everybody after last year. For giving me a race car like that and being able to put it together today when it counted.”
The win left Truex in the clear and out of the spotlight as, once again, Martinsville contact spilled over onto pit road. This time, Logano and Denny Hamlin went at it after late-race contact between the two cut down Logano’s tire. The No. 22 Ford spun out, causing a caution but Logano fought back to finish eighth.
“I just wanted to talk to him about it,” Logano said of a discussion that turned physical once he gave Hamlin a light shove while walking away. “I’m pretty frustrated. He came off the corner like there wasn’t a car on the outside of him. I don’t really know what happened, because once he started hitting me, he didn’t lift. He just kept finishing me off.
“At the end of the day, we still got a decent finish out of it. Maybe I shouldn’t have shoved him at the end, that might have escalated it a little bit more. I just wanted to see what he was going to say and he wasn’t really apologetic at all. I just wanted to see what his thoughts were and it wasn’t quite the answer I was looking for. Emotions run high.”
Hamlin held on for fourth place, remaining over 20 points above the playoff cut line. He’s the highest in points of any driver who hasn’t clinched a spot in the Championship 4.
“We were having a discussion, everything was civil, and then, like Joey does, he does a little push and then runs away. That’s Joey,” Hamlin said. “He’s scared. He said ‘yes, you wanna go,’ I said ‘yes, I’m here’ but then he runs away.
“We were running close, he cut a tire. He’ll probably say, ‘yeah, that’s short track racing.'”
Further up the running order, Byron came on strong in what was easily the best race since joining the Cup Series in 2018. But he could never quite clear Truex on a series of late-race restarts and was forced to settle for second, a career best.
“Close,” Byron said of his performance. “He was really strong. Our car bounced a little bit on the short run, which was tough to get around. But overall, it was a really good day. This wasn’t a place I’ve loved coming to, but it really clicked this weekend. We’ll try and get one spot better next time.”
A race filled with 11 caution flags had its share of playoff implications. Chase Elliott had the worst day of any title contender; mechanical problems led to an extended stay on pit road. Finishing 36th, 55 laps down, he’s now 44 points behind Logano for the fourth and final spot at Homestead.
Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Logano remain second, third and fourth in points. Logano’s lead over Harvick grew to 14, with Blaney 15 behind. Larson sits 24 points back in seventh place.
This story will be updated.
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