Martin Truex Jr. received a penalty on the opening lap of the race for crossing the start/finish line in front of polesitter Denny Hamlin at the green flag. But 400 laps later Truex led the field across the line again – this time as the race winner of Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 Salute to First Responders at Richmond (Va.) Raceway.
The convincing 1.317-second margin of victory over his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Hamlin and Christopher Bell marked Truex’s third win in the last five races at Richmond, his fourth win of the 2021 season and, most importantly, gave him that coveted automatic bid into the next round of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
Truex joins Hamlin, who won last week’s Playoff opener at Darlington, S.C. and Regular Season Champion Kyle Larson, who finished sixth on Saturday, as the only three drivers to have officially secured positions in the Playoffs’ Round of 12 that begins in two weeks at Las Vegas.
The first thing Truex did after climbing out of his winning No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was acknowledge the importance of the September 11 date to our country and thank the fans for showing their support on the solemn anniversary and for their patriotic support of the sport of NASCAR.
As for his early setback, “That was frustrating, I’m not going to lie,” Truex said of the race start. “But I knew we had a good enough car to overcome it. Just one of those things you have to put out of your mind and go race. A lot on the line tonight.
“But going to Bristol (Tenn.) next week without any worries is always fun,” he added with a smile.
Truex, who led a total of 80 laps, took the lead for good – pacing the field for the final 51 laps – following a series of green flag pit stops in the final portion of the race. Just prior to the pit sequence, another JGR teammate, Kyle Busch, had positioned himself to be a factor at the checkered flag. Instead, Busch received his second pit road penalty of the night – a speeding violation during his green flag stop with 55 laps remaining. At the time, it dropped him to 10th place, the last car on the lead lap after he had been out front for 39 laps just prior to the green flag stops. He ultimately finished ninth.
Last week’s winner Hamlin had been the strong car early, leading 100 of the opening 152 laps and a race best 197 on the night, winning both Stages. But the pit road sequence, lapped traffic and an awakened Truex forced Hamlin to play catch-up in the end.
“The whole JGR team had fast cars for all of us today. I really wish we had gotten two in a row, but regardless still a great day for the team,” Hamlin said.
Unlike last week’s Playoff opener at Darlington, when several of the 16 Playoff cars suffered setbacks and disappointing finishes, Saturday night those cars reminded why they are in position to challenge for a championship. Thirteen of the top 15 cars were driven by Playoff drivers.
Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott finished fourth in a Hendrick Chevrolet and Team Penske’s Joey Logano was fifth in a Ford. Larson finished sixth, followed by the only non-Playoff driver among the top 10, Ross Chastain.
Stewart-Haas Racing’s driver Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney rounded out the top 10.
Playoff drivers Alex Bowman, Brad Keselowski, Aric Almirola and Tyler Reddick finished 12th-15th. William Byron (19th), Michael McDowell (28th) and Kurt Busch (37th) rounded out the Playoff finishers.
Busch, who led laps early, suffered a tire problem that sent his No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet hard into the Turn 1 wall only 40 laps into the race.
“Something happened with that left rear, it let go,” said Busch, who was running in the top-five at the time of his accident. “It let go of our points, and it let go of our whole season right now. I don’t know what we’re going to have to do at Bristol other than win.”
Despite the tough luck, Busch heads into Saturday night’s Playoff Round of 16 finale at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway in a mathematical tie with Bowman for the 12th Playoff position – and last transfer position.
Reddick (-5), Byron (-18), Daytona 500 winner McDowell (-38) are currently outside the top-12, with four of the 16 cars eliminated from the Playoffs following Bristol’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Harvick is the defending winner of the Bristol Playoff race. Joey Logano won the 2021 race at the Bristol track’s inaugural dirt race in March. Kurt Busch has six previous wins at Bristol and his younger brother Kyle is the winningest active driver with eight victories.
Martin Truex Jr
With the Stars and Stripes on his car, 20th anniversary of 9/11, Martin says, This one means a lot. How about in front of these Richmond fans to win on the 20th anniversary, a big time for the team, as well, Martin?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Yeah, it’s a big day. It’s an important day in our history. I think all of us here — yeah, we’re proud to win, and this car is amazing and there’s so many people to thank, but what a day to win on. It reminds you of the honor and the privilege it is to get to come out here and do this.
All these great fans that come out here, we couldn’t do any of these kind of things without the men and women that take care of us and all the first responders, police officers, firefighters, the military, you name it. NASCAR is very patriotic, and we’re very proud, and Johnny Morris is very patriotic; that’s why this thing is red, white and blue. So very proud of everybody to be able to do this today.
How much of the finish of this night, finishing with the win, was about the start of this night and making up for that when you had to come down pit road right off the start?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: That was frustrating; I’m not going to lie. But I knew we’d have a good enough car to overcome it. It felt pretty good the first couple laps.
Just one of those things; you’ve got to put it out of your mind, and you’ve got to go race, and we knew there was a lot on the line tonight. Very happy to get to do this and go to Bristol without any worries next week is always fun.
The JGR drivers pick good times to win; it’s been since May at Darlington, a long time for the 19 team.
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Yeah, it’s been a while. We talked last week about how much speed we’ve had in these things, and just thanks to all my guys and everybody at JGR, Toyota, TRD, Bass Pro, Auto Owners, Reser’s Fine Foods, Oakley, Textron, everybody that helps us. We couldn’t do it without them. Very lucky to get to do this, as I mentioned, and very proud to win here tonight.
The win last week at Darlington, runner-up today at Richmond for Denny Hamlin. Led a race high 197 laps, but just needed a couple extra ones at the end there to close the gap on the 19.
DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, just a couple more. But our pit stops were a little slow there, and we lost about two or three seconds, maybe four on pit road those two stops, and about a second and a half behind. We were coming, just we got off track with our car right there in the middle stages of the race, but overall Chris and the team made great adjustments there at the end on the FedEx Camry, just needed a couple more laps, that’s all.
I don’t way to say you went through a lull in the summer because that’s probably not the right word, but I think this first and a second place is kind of what we expected more consistently from you guys just based on how you raced at the beginning of the year. Do you feel like you guys are back on track where you want to be?
DENNY HAMLIN: Well, it’s go time now. Ultimately, it’s the time where you’ve got to bring your best. All JGR team had fast cars for all of us today, and we just — I really wish we would have got two in a row, but regardless, still a great day for our team.
Up-and-down day for Christopher Bell. Certainly battled some handling gremlins at the start of this one. I know you weren’t very happy initially, but sounded like by the end got this car pretty happy for you. Were you pretty happy with it by the end of it
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I mean, I think obviously all of our Joe Gibbs Racing cars were extremely fast, so hats off to everyone back there at the job, Toyota, TRD that gives us the resources that we need to come out here and do good. We knew going into Richmond that this is one of our better racetracks, so we needed to capitalize on that and get all the points we could.
Really proud of everyone on this DeWalt Camry. They worked hard. The start of the race was a little bit disappointing to give up stage points in Stage 1, but we did good; we got some points there in Stage 2 and got a good finish out of it.
We go to Bristol next week, another track you’re pretty good at. How do you feel about where you’re at, and you’re I think plus 17 to the good, so you’re in a good spot with points.
CHRISTOPHER BELL: Yeah, I feel good about it, and Bristol is a really good racetrack for our company and me and a driver, but it’s a little bit — it’s just you can get caught up in stuff so easily at Bristol. It’s nice to have a buffer and hopefully we can go to Bristol and have an uneventful event.
- (3) Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 400.
- (2) Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 400.
- (10) Christopher Bell (P), Toyota, 400.
- (13) Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 400.
- (6) Joey Logano (P), Ford, 400.
- (1) Kyle Larson (P), Chevrolet, 400.
- (17) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 400.
- (5) Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 400.
- (15) Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, 400.
- (8) Ryan Blaney (P), Ford, 399.
- (19) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 399.
- (12) Alex Bowman (P), Chevrolet, 399.
- (7) Brad Keselowski (P), Ford, 399.
- (9) Aric Almirola (P), Ford, 399.
- (11) Tyler Reddick (P), Chevrolet, 398.
- (26) Chase Briscoe #, Ford, 398.
- (22) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 398.
- (28) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 398.
- (14) William Byron (P), Chevrolet, 398.
- (24) Ryan Newman, Ford, 398.
- (31) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 398.
- (21) Cole Custer, Ford, 397.
- (23) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 397.
- (18) Chris Buescher, Ford, 396.
- (20) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 396.
- (30) Anthony Alfredo #, Ford, 396.
- (29) Justin Haley(i), Chevrolet, 396.
- (16) Michael McDowell (P), Ford, 395.
- (25) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 395.
- (32) BJ McLeod(i), Ford, 393.
- (36) Garrett Smithley(i), Chevrolet, 389.
- (27) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 388.
- (34) Joey Gase(i), Chevrolet, 387.
- (37) JJ Yeley(i), Chevrolet, 386.
- (35) Quin Houff, Chevrolet, 386.
- (33) Josh Bilicki, Ford, 385.
- (4) Kurt Busch (P), Chevrolet, Accident, 40.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 98.307 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 3 Mins, 6 Secs. Margin of Victory: 1.417 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 5 for 30 laps.
Lead Changes: 21 among 8 drivers.
Lap Leaders: K. Larson (P) 0;D. Hamlin (P) 1-32;K. Busch (P) 33-36;D. Hamlin (P) 37-90;C. Elliott (P) 91-131;M. Truex Jr. (P) 132;K. Larson (P) 133-134;C. Bell (P) 135-137;D. Hamlin (P) 138-161;C. Elliott (P) 162-177;D. Hamlin (P) 178-179;C. Elliott (P) 180;K. Larson (P) 181-184;C. Bell (P) 185-186;D. Hamlin (P) 187-268;M. Truex Jr. (P) 269-296;C. Bell (P) 297-301;R. Chastain 302-305;K. Busch (P) 306-344;D. Hamlin (P) 345-347;K. Larson (P) 348-349;M. Truex Jr. (P) 350-400.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Denny Hamlin (P) 6 times for 197 laps; Martin Truex Jr. (P) 3 times for 80 laps; Chase Elliott (P) 3 times for 58 laps; Kyle Busch (P) 1 time for 39 laps; Christopher Bell (P) 3 times for 10 laps; Kyle Larson (P) 3 times for 8 laps; Kurt Busch (P) 1 time for 4 laps; Ross Chastain 1 time for 4 laps.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 11,9,22,5,12,42,2,19,4,10
Stage #2 Top Ten: 11,18,19,5,22,20,42,10,48,4