RICHMOND, Va. – With 86 laps to go, Martin Truex Jr. thought his chances of winning a second-straight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway were gone in a sudden cloud of smoke.
However, channeling a level of heroism from 34 years earlier, Truex painted Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 with shades from the 1985 Indianapolis 500, coming back from a late-race spin to win for the sixth time this season.
Truex, who was turned around from the race on the frontstretch at lap 315 by Ricky Stenhouse Jr., was able to refire and fall into third place as the caution flag waved over the field.
Following pit stops and with a fresh set of tires, Truex charged into second behind his teammate, then-leader Kyle Busch. From there, he bode his time and lurked in the shadows for the right time to strike.
It took more than 50 revolutions of the three-quarter-mile D-shaped oval, but that moment for Truex finally developed inside of 30 laps to go as the handling on Busch’s Toyota began to fade quickly.
With 26 laps left, Truex shot to the inside of Busch, hooked the yellow line on the bottom of the track and cleared his teammate and title rival, despite Busch firing back with a shot to Truex’s rear bumper before the latter pulled away into the Virginia night.
Ultimately, Truex drove off to a 2.630-second victory at the checkered flag over Busch, notching his milestone 25th career Cup Series triumph and second-straight at Richmond.
As he climbed from his car on the frontstretch, Truex immediately paid a nod to the Indy car driver who accomplished a similar-looking victory in the 69th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing up at IMS.
“I feel like Danny Sullivan right now!” Truex exclaimed. “Honestly, I don’t know what to say, I really don’t. I’m speechless at this one; this was just an unbelievable job by all my guys. They’ve built some unbelievable race cars right now. We had a heck of a race with Kyle (Busch) and Denny (Hamlin) … all night long really, and we just kept plugging away at it, like we always do. We just keep digging and we never quit. Next thing you know, I was catching the 18 (Busch) for the lead
“To sweep Richmond finally is pretty awesome, with as much as we’ve led here coming into this year,” he added. “It’s a pretty amazing feeling.”
Truex becomes the fourth driver since the inception of the playoff format to sweep the first two race wins of the 10-race home stretch.
Matt Kenseth (2013), Tony Stewart (2011) and Greg Biffle (2008) were the others to accomplish the feat.
Busch crossed the line second, a stark improvement from his vocal and disappointing run in the playoff opener at Las Vegas a week earlier, but admitted he just didn’t have what Truex had on Saturday night.
“I don’t know what more we needed; I don’t think we were as good as him (Truex) all night long,” said Busch. “Martin and his car against myself and this No. 18 … we just lacked a little bit, like the No. 11 (Hamlin) lacked a little bit more than us. It’s 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,” noted Busch of Truex. “That worried me for a finish like that in the long run.”
Hamlin was third and Erik Jones crossed the finish line in fourth to give Joe Gibbs Racing a sweep of the top four finishing positions for the first time in team history.
It’s the first time one organization has finished first through fourth in Cup Series competition since the 2005 season finale at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway, when Roush-Fenway Racing pulled it off.
Brad Keselowski was the best of the rest, coming home fifth, followed by Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Daniel Suarez, who was the only non-playoff driver in the top 10.
After years of futility and missed opportunities on short tracks, Truex has now won two short-track races in one season with his sweep of the Richmond Cup Series races this year. It’s a weight off his shoulders.
“I guess after all the times we didn’t win (on short tracks), we paid our dues,” Truex noted. “Sometimes those heartbreakers … you end up getting rewarded in the end, and I suppose that’s where we’re at.”
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