Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin started on pole and led most of the laps (274) but with 15 laps to go his Joe Gibbs racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. (shown above) passed Hamlin and pulled away to win the rain delayed Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway Sunday.
Chase Elliott then passed Hamlin for 2nd with 5 laps to go and they finished that way.
William Byron and Kyle Larson rounded out the top-5 to give Hendrick Motorsports 3 of the top5 positions.
Truex has now won 5 of the last 11 short track races in capturing his 29th NASCAR Cup win. It was the third win of the year for Toyota powered cars and Truex Jr. was the first driver to win 2 races this year.
Truex finished 1.972 seconds ahead of runner-up Chase Elliott, who passed Hamlin for the second spot on Lap 495 of 500. Hamlin held third, 2.364 seconds behind, to post his seventh top-five finish (including four third-place results) in his eight starts this season.
“I can’t believe we won again here, after not having the dominant car today, for sure,” said Truex, who led for the first time when he beat Hamlin out of the pits on Lap 455 but surrendered the top spot to Hamlin’s short-run speed after a restart on Lap 459. “It was a lot of fun there at the end racing with Denny.
“We raced clean, and we were able to come out on top. It’s definitely difficult. We try to race hard, race clean. He was making it difficult on me—I was loose coming off the corners. His car got tight, so we kind of had opposite things going on, and it made it difficult to pass. We played nice. (Team owner) Coach (Joe Gibbs) will be happy. It’ll be a cordial meeting tomorrow.”
In a race that produced 15 cautions for 102 laps, the 42-lap green-flag run to the finish proved Hamlin’s undoing. The driver No. 11 Toyota didn’t have the long-run speed to hold off his teammate.
“It’s just the cards we were dealt,” said Hamlin, who led 276 laps. “We had a really good short-run car. We just didn’t have a good long-run car. We just couldn’t get our car to turn in the long run. That was the bugaboo of it, I guess you could say.
“We had a really fast car for 20 laps or so, and then it would just kind of go away.”
Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Kyle Larson finished fourth and fifth, respectively. Joey Logano, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch completed the top 10.
Ryan Blaney won the first and second stages and led 157 laps, but his No. 12 Team Penske Ford dragged an air hose out of the pit box on his final stop, earning a penalty that sent him to the back of the field for the Lap 459 restart. He fought back for an 11th-place finish.
“We’ve had an issue the last three times we’ve been here with a car to win, so that’s frustrating, but I’m real proud of the effort,” Blaney said. “I just wish we could close one out.”
A 15-car pileup worthy of a “Big One” at Talladega thinned the field of potential winners and blocked the track as effectively as the forlorn container ship stopped traffic in the Suez Canal. Then melee started with side-to-side contact between the cars of Chris Buescher and Kyle Busch and collected a baker’s dozen of cars behind them—and setting the Chevrolets of Daniel Suarez and Ryan Preece on fire.
The wreck, which stopped the race under a red flag that lasted 21 minutes, 47 seconds, was the coup de grace for two-time Martinsville winner Brad Keselowski, who had sustained damage in two earlier accidents.
“It’s just unfortunate that we got caught up in it,” Keselowski said. “The track was blocked. I think I was just barely going to 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… Just one of those compounding, frustrating short-track days, but we had decent speed.”
The race was halted by rain after 42 laps on Saturday night and resumed under caution at 4 p.m. on Sunday.
MARTIN TRUEX JR., No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry
Finishing Position: 1st
You were strong all day, but at the end of the race that car came to life. How did you score the win?
“It was pretty incredible there at the end. The Bass Pro Toyota – James (Small, crew chief) 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 (Hamlin). We raced clean and we were able to come out on top.”
How difficult is it to race a teammate for a win?
“It’s definitely difficult. We try to race hard, race clean. He was making it difficult on me. I was loose coming off of the corners and his car got tight, so we kind of had opposite things going on and it made it difficult to pass, but we played nice and Coach (Joe Gibbs, team owner) will be happy. It will be a cordial meeting tomorrow.”
Is it hard to believe that you have now won for the third time at Martinsville?
“This is unbelievable. 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.”
What was the battle like in the closing laps with Denny Hamlin?
“It was good, hard, clean hard racing. He (Denny Hamlin) was getting tight. I couldn’t get the power down so we kind of had opposite things going on there. I could get inside of him, but I couldn’t clear him, he could get the power down on me. It was a fun battle and it was a clean battle. Coach (Joe Gibbs, team owner) will be happy tomorrow. We didn’t make each other mad or do anything stupid.”
What has changed in recent years with your wins now coming at more short tracks?
“Just continuing to work with my team on the cars and the setups. They’ve been able to make the cars do what I need them to do and that was something I’ve been missing for a long time. Great race cars. Thanks to JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) and everyone back at the shop and everyone on this No. 19 Bass Pro Camry team. They do an awesome job. We keep tweaking on it and tweaking on it. For awhile there, I’m like, man, maybe we shouldn’t have done a few of the thing that we did, but here we are. Like I said, when the lights come on for some reason our cars get really fast.”
Are you shocked to think you’re about to go receive your third Grandfather clock?
“There was a time when I thought there was no chance in hell I’d have a clock so to have three and to have a shot at even more than that has been amazing. Thank you all.”
CHASE ELLIOTT, NO. 9 NAPA AUTO PARTS CAMARO ZL1 1LE – Finished 2nd
YOU WERE COMING ON STRONG THERE AT THE END, CHASE. DID THE CAR GET BETTER OR WAS THAT JUST CIRCUMSTANCE?
“I really felt like we were not perfect, for sure, all day. But we did make it better I think as the day went on. The run was kind of that right distance for me there at the end to maximize it. I felt like if it was any longer than that, I was probably going to fade again kind of like I had been all day.”
“I really appreciate the effort. We worked really hard today to get back to second. I felt like every strategy call and circumstance just kind of went the other direction for us. We had a couple of good restarts there at the end; had a good pit stop and made a good last adjustment just for a short run. But definitely need to be better. Our NAPA team has been working hard. We’ve had a very eventful year I feel like, so it’s nice to just have a solid day. We got some stage points and got a good finish. We’ll try to go get them next week.”
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx OfficeToyota Camry
Finishing Position: 3rd
In a perfect scenario, what would you have done differently to hold off your teammate?
“That’s just the cards we were dealt. 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.”
You were strong on short runs all day, but was the run at the end just too long?
“Yeah, basically. We had a fast car for 20 or 25 laps especially, but after that our car just faded and didn’t have the grip that the 12 (Ryan Blaney) or certainly the 9 (Chase Elliott) and the 19 (Martin Truex Jr.) had there at the end. Gave ourselves a shot by getting that restart and getting around them, but inevitably we just didn’t have a fast enough car after 30 laps.”
How do you make your peace with a third-place finish after dominating most of the day?
“We just continue to run top-three every single week. Every stage, every finish – we’re right there. We just need to get a little better. We’re barely missing it. We led a lot of laps and that’s because our competitors that we were racing against, had some issues. We had a good short run car that could keep us up front on the restarts. Overall, a lot to learn.”
WILLIAM BYRON, NO. 24 LIBERTY UNIVERSITY CAMARO ZL1 1LE – Finished 4th
“It was a hard-fought day for us. We had handling issues early on and then once we got back further in the pack – it was just crazy. We had fresh tires and the speed but had to manage traffic. Once we got track position back we were making up ground but got held up a couple times which hurt us. Overall though we had a fast Liberty University Chevy. It was a good day and we learned a lot. On to Richmond next weekend.”
KYLE LARSON, NO. 5 HENDRICKCARS.COM CAMARO ZL1 1LE – Finished 5th
“Yeah, definitely the restarts were crazy. I didn’t have the best balance on the restarts and that made it even a little crazier for me because I was kind of on defense, I felt like, most of the time. Even when I was on offense, I was kind of on-edge. But after we would get 15 to 20 laps in, I actually felt really good. I felt like we were probably a fourth-place car on the long runs, so I was happy about that. To get a top-five here at probably, by far, my worst race track feels like a win.”
|1||19||Martin Truex Jr.||Toyota||500||—|
|15||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||Chevy||499||16.271|
|26||38||Anthony Alfredo #||Ford||491||-9|
|27||14||Chase Briscoe #||Ford||490||-10|
|36||37||* Ryan Preece||Chevy||382||-118|
# Denotes Rookie
(I) Not Eligible For Points
(*) Required To Qualify On Time
Average Speed of Race Winner: 67.316 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 54 Mins, 25 Secs. Margin of Victory: 1.972 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 15 for 102 laps.
Lead Changes: 18 among 7 drivers.
Lap Leaders: J. Logano 1-3;D. Hamlin 4-38;J. Logano 39;D. Hamlin 40-74;R. Blaney 75-140;D. Hamlin 141-174;R. Blaney 175-264;D. Hamlin 265-290;J. Logano 291;B. Wallace 292-314;W. Byron 315-323;D. Hamlin 324-372;J. Logano 373;C. Bell 374-382;D. Hamlin 383-453;R. Blaney 454;M. Truex Jr. 455-458;D. Hamlin 459-484;M. Truex Jr. 485-500.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Denny Hamlin 7 times for 276 laps; Ryan Blaney 3 times for 157 laps; Bubba Wallace 1 time for 23 laps; Martin Truex Jr. 2 times for 20 laps; Christopher Bell 1 time for 9 laps; William Byron 1 time for 9 laps; Joey Logano 4 times for 6 laps.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 12,11,19,9,5,24,48,2,22,20
Stage #2 Top Ten: 12,11,19,9,48,2,24,8,18,1