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Martinsville Brings Out The Best In Truex

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 28 2019
Martin Truex Jr. claimed a spot in the Cup Series’ final four by winning at Martinsville on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Martin Truex Jr. produced a textbook performance on how to conquer Martinsville Speedway in Sunday’s First Data 500, leading 464 of the 500 laps to cruise into the championship round at Homestead next month. 

It was the most laps led by a driver in a single event since 1992 when Kyle Petty led 484 of 492 laps in the AC Delco 500 at Rockingham, N.C. Truex’s performance also gave him seven victories this season, the most of any driver, and a 20-point lead over Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin in the standings.

“It feels damn good to be the best right now,” Truex said after his 26th career victory.

Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn noted it was the first time they had ever been locked into the championship round this early in the Round of Eight. 

“Every time we’ve made the Final Four we’ve pointed our way in,” Truex said. “We’ve never won in this round, so it’s new territory. It’s good territory to be in, but honestly we can’t change who we are. I said that earlier in the year when the playoffs started.  You can’t just go from the regular season to we’re going to change our mindset for the playoffs. You race every week the same, just there’s more on the line as you go down the road.”

Pearn admitted they had already started working on a Homestead car, but this year’s rules package left them in unchartered territory.

“Usually, you’re able to work on last year’s notes and things like that, and this year that’s not the case,” Pearn said. “You’re going to a track for the first time with this rules package and you’ve got two 50-minute practices to figure it out.  We can work all we want on it, but to know exactly what we want to do is still a bit of a guess.”

While Truex and his team can now breathe a sigh of relief knowing they’re vying for a championship at Homestead, the next two races — Texas and Phoenix –present a more nerve-wracking situation for the other seven drivers seeking a berth in the title round, especially Chase Elliott. After suffering an engine failure in practice and a gear problem during the race, Elliott must win one of the next two races if he hopes to keep his championship hopes alive. The Dawsonville, Ga., driver finished 36th Sunday due to the repairs his crew made during the event that left him down 55 laps. 

It wasn’t mechanical problems, but rather fender-banging issues during the event that led to a scuffle between Joey Logano and Hamlin after the race on pit road. 

The two were battling for position late in the race when Hamlin carried Logano high as they exited turn four and into the wall. That cut a tire on Logano’s car, resulting in a spin on lap 459.  Logano fought back to finish eighth, while Hamlin placed fourth. The pit road fracas resulted in Logano crew chief Todd Gordon, Team Penske Competition Director Travis Geisler and another crew member being called to the NASCAR hauler, a NASCAR spokesman said. 

“I wanted to talk to him about it, and maybe I shouldn’t have shoved him at the end (of the pit road meeting),” Logano said. “It may have escalated it a little bit more. It’s frustrating.”

Hamlin said the discussion between the two was civil until Logano pushed him. That’s when Hamlin went after Logano and the scuffle began. Hamlin found himself lying on pit road while a few crew members engaged in an altercation. As other crew members and NASCAR officials worked to separate them, Logano and Hamlin circled back around to each other, but team members and officials kept them apart.

Meanwhile, on the frontstretch, Truex basked in the success he had sought for so long at Martinsville.

“For me, it’s just a personal thing,” said Truex, who averaged 75.448 mph in the race slowed by 11 caution flags for 69 laps. 

“I wanted to win at Martinsville because it’s been so tough for me. The first couple times I came here, we were terrible. I mean, awful. You want to be able to win everywhere.  You want to be able to conquer all the things that you say, ‘I need to figure that out.’  To finally get it here, it just feels good.  So Homestead, yeah, it’s awesome, but standing here today, the win here and taking that grandfather clock home is even bigger to me.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, October 28 2019
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