Martin Truex, Jr. scores two in a row with Richmond win
Rallying from a spin off the bumper of Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s Ford, and passing Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch for the lead with 25 laps left, Truex led an 1-2-3-4 finish for JGR in Saturday night's Federated Auto parts 400 at Richmond Raceway.
Never before had the organization swept the top four spots in a race in NASCAR's premier series.
The victory was a milestone for Truex, too. The winner of last week's Playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Truex had never won back-to-back races before. Now the driver of the no. 19 Toyota has six wins this season, a season sweep at Richmond and 25 victories in his Cup career.
Busch came home second, 2.630 seconds behind his teammate. Denny Hamlin ran third, followed by Erik Jones, who assured the Gibbs sweep with a pass of pole winner Brad Keselowski for fourth place on Lap 378 of 400.
Restarting third after the fifth and final caution of the race, Truex chased his teammate for the next 50 laps, finally clearing him on Lap 375.
"Luckily I didn't hit anything," Truex said of his spin. "I just tried to keep it off the fence, tried to get spun around and get going, and we ended up—because we were pretty far up front, we got going in a pretty good spot and left pit road in a good position and then good adjustments at the end again by (crew chief) Cole (Pearn) and (engineer) James (Small) and the guys.
"This is just freaking unbelievable. So we came here to get bonus points and damn sure we did that... Had a heck of a race with Kyle and Denny all night long, really, and we just kept plugging away at it, kept plugging away at it, as we always do. We just keep digging and we never quit. Next thing you know, catching the 18 (Busch) for the lead, I'm like, 'Cool, all right, here we go.' Man, to sweep Richmond finally is pretty awesome, as much as we've led here coming into this year, and just thanks to everybody. It's pretty amazing."
Though Busch led a race-high 202 laps to Truex's 109, the driver of the No. 18 Toyota conceded his car wasn't quite up to the task of challenging his teammate.
"I don't think we were as good as him all night long," Busch acknowledged. "Martin, the car, the combination thereof, us, the combination of, just lacked a little bit. You know, like the 11 (Hamlin) lacked a little bit more than us. Just weird, I don't know.
Keselowski, the only other driver to lead laps on Saturday, finished fifth, followed by fellow Playoff drivers Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer.
With his fourth-place run, Jones made up 20 points of the 23 point deficit he brought to Richmond from Las Vegas, where a stuck throttle sent him hurtling into the outside wall and cost him a 36th-place finish. Jones heads to the Sept. 29 elimination race at the Charlotte Roval three points behind 12th-place William Byron (25th Saturday) for the final berth in the Round of 12.
Alex Bowman (24th), Jones, Bowyer and Kurt Busch (19th) enter the final race of the Round of 16 below the cut line for the next round. Kurt Busch faces the largest deficit—15 points to Byron.
MARTIN TRUEX JR., No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 1st
Great win tonight, Martin.
“Man, I don’t know what to say, I really don’t. I’m speechless. Just an unbelievable job by all my guys. Toyota, TRD, Bass Pro, Auto Owners, everybody back at the shop. You guys built some unbelievable race cars right now. Had a heck of a race with Kyle (Busch) and Denny (Hamlin) all night long really, and we just kept plugging away at it, kept plugging away at it, as we always do. We just keep digging and we never quit. Next thing you know, catching the 18 (Kyle Busch) for the lead, I’m like, ‘cool, all right, here we go.’ Man, to sweep Richmond finally is pretty awesome, as much as we’ve led here coming into this year, and just thanks to everybody. It’s pretty amazing.”
Unbelievable this redemption here at this track. It looked like there was no way Stenhouse was trying to slide you around, but somehow you spin, you keep your cool, you come back and win. How did you do that?
“Luckily, I didn't hit anything. I just tried to keep it off the fence, tried to get spun around and get going, and we ended up – because we were pretty far up front, we got going in a pretty good spot and left pit road in a good position and then good adjustments at the end again. This is just freaking unbelievable, so we came here to get bonus points and damn sure we did that.”
Martin, congratulations! How about that! Did you see that one coming?
“Yeah, that’s unbelievable. That’s never happened to me in my whole racing career. Thanks to all the fans who came out tonight and thanks to everyone on this team, Bass Pro Shops, our Camry was really fast tonight. It takes a lot of people to make this happen. I felt pretty good coming into this race. We’ve had a lot of heartbreakers over the years in Richmond. To come here and sweep this year, it must have been meant to be. Thanks to all of our guys, Toyota, TRD, everybody who makes this happen, Auto Owners, all of our partners that let us do this, and everybody back at Joe Gibbs Racing building unbelievable racecars. Hopefully, we can keep this up. We came here to get bonus points and we sure as hell did it.”
Talk about the spin. How did you regroup?
“I just tried to stay out of the fence and get it straightened out. Luckily, we got a caution, and we ended up in a pretty good spot when we came off pit road. We had a pretty good lead there and we were able to take advantage of it. From there, we were just battling. Had to pass the 11 (Denny Hamlin), had to pass the 18 (Kyle Busch). I knew it was going to be really tough to get by both of them. Both of them were strong all night long. Track position was important. I don’t know if the 18 fell off at that long run in the end there, but we were to be a little bit better than them in the end and make the move.”
It’s great to have strong teammates. What is it like racing against strong teammates in the end?
“Yeah, you just don’t want to screw up and get into each other. I’ve got so much respect for Kyle (Busch) and Denny (Hamlin). They are great teammates, Erik (Jones) as well. We can race hard, but we race clean. We kind of threw that out there tonight and showed everybody we can do it. Those guys did a great job. They were really fast all night. It was going to come down to whomever could hit it right in the end. Fortunately, we were able to do it right. Lot of fun to race with those guys. Hopefully, we can take it all the way to Homestead and put all four in there.”
When you have a car as good as the car you said tonight, is anything less than this acceptable?
“I don't know, man. I don't know that we have crazy expectations. We just go out there and get all we can. What a job the team did. I mean, it's just unbelievable. To win this way is pretty incredible. I've never done anything like that in my life. I don't know, when things are rolling, they just are, and again, just a lot of people to thank, a lot of people responsible for putting me in this position and giving me these race cars, my buddy Johnny (Morris, Bass Pro Shops), I know he's up there in Canada with some friends fishing and they're watching tonight, so have one for me, guys. Thanks for everything, and just everybody, Auto Owners, Toyota, TRD, all the guys in Costa Mesa building the engines. It takes a lot of people to get this stuff done, and to be able to race with Kyle (Busch) and Denny (Hamlin) like that all night was a lot of fun. Hopefully, we can keep it going. Bonus points are awesome, so we’ll try to keep getting them.”
COLE PEARN, crew chief, No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Cole, I know that center turn was something that you wanted in this car all night. How big was that at the end there just to be able to track Kyle Busch down?
“Yeah, it was huge. We had to keep working on it all night. We had good speed, but it was just a matter of staying up with it and adjusting. It’s hard when you’re racing your teammates and they’re looking at what you’re doing and you’re looking at what they’re doing and those are the guys you’re racing. Just an awesome night for JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing). Just want to thank everybody back at the shop. I don’t know, everybody works so hard this time of year, and then just to let them know all their hard work is paying off is pretty awesome.”
JOE GIBBS, Team Owner, Joe Gibbs Racing
How strong is this team?
“A great night for us. I am really proud of these guys and the guys back at the shop. We have so many great people, and I wish they could all be here to celebrate. It was a great team effort by everybody, all four cars, just a thrill. This doesn’t happen very often. We are going to enjoy it. The Lord blessed us with a great night.”
Finishing Position: 2nd
Kyle Busch finished in second, just couldn’t hold off Martin Truex Jr. there. What more did you need to hold him off in that long run?
“I don’t know, I don’t think we were as good as him all night long. Martin (Truex Jr.), the car, the combination thereof, us, the combination of, just lacked a little bit. You know, like the 11 (Denny Hamlin) lacked a little bit more than us. Just weird, I don’t know. We led a lot of laps. We were up front a lot. But when I was out front, he could keep the closest distance to me. That kind of worried me for a finish like that in the long run. But our M&M’s guys did a great job, and we brought a fast race car here to Richmond, and I think all the JGR cars were pretty respectable there, so really awesome job by everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota, and being able to have some really good pieces to go out there and race with.”
You led the most laps. You’re now clinched into the next round so you don’t really need to worry at the Roval. How do you treat that race and maybe the next round knowing that?
“Last year, I thought we were going to be all right and finish okay, but then we all decided to follow everybody else off a cliff. It was pretty ugly. But overall just ‑‑ you try to go into that race, it’s a newer type of track, and I don’t know that everybody has got it quite figured out exactly yet. With this new aero package, it’s going to be different and of course, too, with the new chicane it’s going to be different. We can go out there and attack it and try to try to get a win, try to get some stage points, get ourselves a bit of a cushion here, I guess, more over the rest of the guys.”
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 3rd
A strong run today for Denny Hamlin and this 11 team and a third‑place finish to go along with it. Ultimately, what were your teammates ahead of you able to do with your cars that you couldn't with yours?
“Just seemed like the long run speed they really had quite a bit more and a little bit more turn, a little bit more forward drive, just everything – every little bit. It just seemed like it was about a half a tenth a lap there on average, and 19 (Martin Truex Jr.) just had a really good long run car. We were kind of third best there, that's kind of where we ended up. Happy with maximizing the day that I thought I was capable of, and good effort, and we'll go to the Roval and have some fun now.”
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