Truex Jr. fends off Kyle Busch for repeat Sonoma win
Dominant in defense of last year’s victory in the Toyota/Save Mart 350, Martin Truex Jr. held off Kyle Busch, his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, to win Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event at Sonoma Raceway.
With three-lap fresher tires after the final set of green-flag pit stops at the 2.52-mile road course -- which for the first time since 1997 featured use of the carousel connecting Turns 4 and 7 -- Busch closed an 8.269-second gap to slightly more than a second over the last 24 laps.
But the driver of the No. 18 Toyota could get no closer, given that Truex’s No. 19 Camry had better drive off the corners at the 12-turn course and was able to keep Busch at bay. Truex led three times for 59 of the 90 laps, including the final 24.
“I just dug down deep and tried to be smooth and hit my marks,” said Truex, who won for the fourth time this season -- all in the last eight races — the third time at Sonoma (including two straight, and with three different car owners) and the 23rd time in his career. “Luckily I began with a big enough gap where I could get away and not feel too much pressure.
“It was definitely a battle going on, as far as the race there at the end for us on tires. It felt terrible the last 20 laps. The last 10 it just felt like it was on ice — just no grip anywhere. I’m really proud of all these guys and everyone on this team and everyone back at JGR.
Joe Gibbs Racing has won 10 of the first 16 races this season. Truex, who moved from now-defunct Furniture Row Racing to JGR this year, has now posted at least four victories in four straight seasons, including the current one.
And with Matt DiBenedetto running a career-best fourth and Stage 2 winner Denny Hamlin driving from 26th to fifth in the final stage of the race after pitting during the second break, Toyota placed four drivers in the top five. The only interloper was third-place Ryan Blaney in a Team Penske Ford.
With four laps left, Busch had trimmed Truex’s advantage to 1.542 seconds, but Truex ultimately expanded the edge to 1.861 seconds at the finish.
“Yeah, any time I had to lean on the left rear, I just didn’t have the drive that I needed,” Busch said. “Actually tried to hold on to it, trying to save it. I knew that was going to be our problem — that had been our problem all day long. You get closer, you’re like, ‘OK, I can get him, I better go, pounce on him fast, so then he doesn’t have the time to pick up the pace.’
“But it didn’t work. He was obviously saving a lot. I knew he was going to be saving a lot, have enough to be able to most likely hold us off. I was right. I still tried everything I could to get there and ran real hard. … Sucks to finish second to a teammate, but it’s good for the company. Overall Martin is really, really good here. I’m just pumped that I actually ran good here.”
Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman claimed the sixth and seventh spots. Erik Jones, who started from the rear of the field after his team made repairs to the left rear quarter of his car post-qualifying, was eighth in the fourth JGR Toyota.
MARTIN TRUEX JR, No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 1st
How were you able to hold off Kyle Busch in the closing laps?
“Just dug down deep and tried to be smooth and hit my marks. Luckily, I was able to have a big enough gap where I could settle in and not feel so much pressure. It was definitely difficult, that was the longest run of the race there at the end for us on tires and it felt terrible the last 20 laps. The last 10, it was just on ice with no grip anywhere. Just really proud of all these guys and everybody on this Bass Pro Shops Camry, everybody at TRD and everybody back at JGR – all the fans. Auto Owners Insurance and everybody that makes this possible. What a season we’ve turned this into. I want to say, ‘thank you’ to DW (Darrell Waltrip) for all you’ve done for us buddy, it’s been an honor to watch replays with you calling the races and stuff. I’ve been a big fan a long time so I want to thank you for that and wish you the best moving forward. This group, they’re unbelievable. Hopefully, we can keep this going.”
What makes you so strong at Sonoma Raceway?
“I can’t tell you that, come on! Through the years we’ve seen guys figure things out and it lasts a while. I wasn’t sure this weekend how it was going to hold up with what we’ve been doing now that we have the carousel, the big left-hand corner. It really changed things up. Took a while to figure it out in practice, but luckily, we were able to just make the right tweaks and I had confidence when the track got hot and slick on the long runs that we’d have what we needed. Just a matter if we had enough speed to get there and we did today.”
What does it mean to win here two years in a row?
“Just excited to come back here and win again after last year. Two years ago we had a dominant car and it blew up late in the race and to come be able to kind of get a little bit of redemption for that feels good. Just really proud of everybody on this team and everybody back at the shop at JGR and TRD and everybody who makes this possible. We’ve got some friends here from Bass Pro today and I know they were excited. They were asking me how we were going to be, they wanted to come drink some wine and see some race cars go around and I was like, ‘You better get here because we’re going to have a shot at it.’ Just really thankful for everyone and all their hard work and really excited today, just a big day for us.”
How tough was the tire wear in today’s race and especially in the closing laps?
“It was so tough and he (Kyle Busch) was catching us on his new tires for a while. Luckily, we were able to build up enough gap there when we pitted earlier than him, that kind of difference, once it got made up – we were kind of reset to where we were, he just had fresher tires or so. It was a bit of a challenge, but towards the end there, we kind of evened out and settled in. Luckily, I was able to catch some lapped cars in the right spot and be able to make the moves quick and not get held up there.”
Did the new carousel portion of the track phase you this weekend?
“It definitely phased me. It took a while to figure it out and it’s a hell of a challenge. Every lap of the race, I felt like I had messed it up a little bit somehow and it’s just really tricky. It was fun, it added a unique challenge, but it’s still Sonoma. Still you need to do the same things to be really good here and we were able to do those today.”
KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 M&M’s Hazelnut Spread Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 2nd
You got within a second, but just couldn’t get there. Talk about your finish today.
“I had to lean on the left rear, and I just didn’t have the drive that I needed. I was trying to hold on to it, trying to save it. I knew that was going to be the problem; it had been our problem all day long. When I got close there, you get closer and then you are like, I have to go and pounce on him fast, so he doesn’t have time to pick up the pace. It didn’t work. He was obviously saving a lot; I knew he was going to be saving a lot, and was going to have enough to most likely be able to hold us off, but I still tried with everything that I could to get there and ran real hard. But our M&M’s Hazelnut Spread Camry was fast; I am really proud of Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the boys. We came here a little better than we have in years past, so that felt nice, but it sucks to finish second to a teammate, but it is good for the company. Overall, Martin (Truex Jr.) is really good here, so I am just pumped that I ran good.”
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