At the end of the last stage in Richmond, it looked like one of Joe Gibbs Racing’s four Toyotas could end up in Victory Lane. Those drivers traded heads for most of the race, but it was Martin Truex Jr. who claimed his fourth victory this season and locked himself in the next round of the NASCAR Cup playoffs.
Denny Hamlin won the first two stages and chased his second-place teammate in the final laps, but was only able to reduce the lead to 1.4 seconds. Christopher Bell was third. Kyle Busch, who led 39 laps of 400, lost places after a speeding penalty late in the race and finished ninth.
Truex won in Phoenix, Martinsville and Darlington earlier this season, the last of which was in early May. The No.19 driver led 80 laps on Saturday night, while Hamlin led almost half of the laps, a race record 197. The strong organization-wide results come at a critical time for teams with eight races remaining in the NASCAR Cup Series season.
“We knew there was a lot at stake tonight,” Truex told NBCSN. “Very happy to be able to do this and to go to Bristol without any worries next week, it’s always fun.”
Truex joins Hamlin and Kyle Larson as the drivers move on to the next lap. Larson clinched a spot on points basis, NASCAR announced midway through the race in Richmond. He finished sixth behind playoff drivers Chase Elliott and Joey Logano, and noted after the race that his No.5 Chevrolet “probably finished where we deserved. Logano also said he felt he had a fifth place in the race.
Conversely, Elliott was one of the drivers who had a fast car, but lost positions after a pit-road situation, which was a theme for many playoff teams. Elliott challenged Hamlin for the lead at the start of the race, but around lap 185 he sank deep into his pit, then backed up to adjust with the jack under his car, causing him to get caught slightly. and caused a long pit stop which put him down a lap. He finished the stage with the pass.
Elliott wasn’t the only playoff contender to lose a round (or more). Ryan Blaney, Alex Bowman, Brad Keselowski, Aric Almirola, Tyler Reddick, William Byron and Michael McDowell all finished at least one lap from the Virginia short track. Bowman, Reddick, Byron and McDowell all risk missing the Round of 12 final in Bristol next weekend.
McDowell had three speeding penalties, one of which occurred while serving a speeding penalty on the pit lane. Kurt Busch, also in the playoffs, retired from the race in the first 50 laps. His left rear tire fell off and he slammed into the outside wall in Turn 1, totaling his No.1 Chevrolet.
Truex was not without its difficulties either. He had to serve a passing penalty for beating the leader, Hamlin, to the start line at the start of the race. (Larson was supposed to start first, but fell at the back due to several pre-race inspection failures.) Truex called the situation “frustrating” but said he knew he would get a pretty good job. car to overcome it.
The only question was whether he would have a car good enough to beat Hamlin, who said he needed “just a few more laps” to close the gap at the end of the race. He said his No. 11 Toyota team lost a few seconds on the pit lane in the final stops.
“We were coming,” Hamlin said. “We just got off the track with our car in the middle of the race, but overall (Team Leader # 11) Chris (Gabehart) and the team made great adjustments at the end of the race. FedEx Camry. I just needed a few more laps. That’s all.”
For Truex, the laps were just enough to seal his 31st career victory on a night he called significant due to the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The track hosted a pre-race commemoration ceremony and Truex drove one of the many cars with a patriotic and symbolic pattern of pain for the date in front of a nearly full crowd in the grandstands seating over 45,000 people.
“(We are) very proud that everyone can do this today,” Truex said.
The Cup Series runs next Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Bristol Motor Speedway for the cutoff race before the round of 12.
Results of the NASCAR race in Richmond
|Order||Driver||Car number||Lead time delay (sec)|
|1||Martin Truex Jr. (P)||19||–|
|2||Denny Hamlin (P)||11||1.417|
|3||Christophe Bell (P)||20||12,916|
|4||Chase Elliott (P)||9||16.625|
|5||Joey Logano (P)||22||18,891|
|6||Kyle Larson (P)||5||21,953|
|8||Kevin Harvick (P)||4||23,222|
|9||Kyle Busch (P)||18||23.85|
|ten||Ryan Blaney (P)||12||-1 (turn)|
|12||Alex Bowman (P)||48||-1|
|13||Brad Keselowski (P)||2||-1|
|14||Aric Almirola (P)||ten||-1|
|15||Tyler Reddick (P)||8||-2|
|19||William Byron (P)||24||-2|
|23||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||47||-3|
|27||Justin Haley (i)||77||-4|
|28||Michael McDowell (P)||34||-5|
|37||Kurt Busch (P)||1||-360|
(P) playoff driver