Martin Truex Jr. passed Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and Virginia native Denny Hamlin on Lap 485 of Sunday’s rain-delayed Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway and pulled away to win for the third time in his last four starts at the .526-mile short track.
The victory was Truex’s second this season, ending a streak of seven straight different winners to start the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season. The driver of the No. 19 Toyota triumphed for the 29th time in his career and for the fifth time in his last 11-short track starts.
Truex finished 1.972 seconds ahead of runner-up Chase Elliott, who passed Hamlin for the second spot on Lap 495 of 500. Hamlin held third, 2.364 seconds behind, to post his seventh top-five finish (including four third-place results) in his eight starts this season.
“I can’t believe we won again here, after not having the dominant car today, for sure,” said Truex, who led for the first time when he beat Hamlin out of the pits on Lap 455 but surrendered the top spot to Hamlin’s short-run speed after a restart on Lap 459. “It was a lot of fun there at the end racing with Denny.”
“We raced clean, and we were able to come out on top. It’s definitely difficult. We try to race hard, race clean. He was making it difficult on me — I was loose coming off the corners. His car got tight, so we kind of had opposite things going on, and it made it difficult to pass. We played nice. (Team owner) Coach (Joe Gibbs) will be happy. It’ll be a cordial meeting tomorrow.”
In a race that produced 15 cautions for 102 laps, the 42-lap green-flag run to the finish proved Hamlin’s undoing. The driver No. 11 Toyota didn’t have the long-run speed to hold off his teammate.
“It’s just the cards we were dealt,” said Hamlin, who led 276 laps. “We had a really good short-run car. We just didn’t have a good long-run car. We just couldn’t get our car to turn in the long run. That was the bugaboo of it, I guess you could say.
“We had a really fast car for 20 laps or so, and then it would just kind of go away.”
Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Kyle Larson finished fourth and fifth, respectively. Joey Logano, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch completed the top 10.
Ryan Blaney won the first and second stages and led 157 laps, but his No. 12 Team Penske Ford dragged an air hose out of the pit box on his final stop, earning a penalty that sent him to the back of the field for the Lap 459 restart. He fought back for an 11th-place finish.
“We’ve had an issue the last three times we’ve been here with a car to win, so that’s frustrating, but I’m real proud of the effort,” Blaney said. “I just wish we could close one out.”
A 15-car pileup worthy of a “Big One” at Talladega Superspeedway thinned the field of potential winners and blocked the track as effectively as the forlorn container ship stopped traffic in the Suez Canal. The melee started with side-to-side contact between the cars of Chris Buescher and Kyle Busch and collected a baker’s dozen of cars behind them—and setting the Chevrolets of Daniel Suarez and Ryan Preece on fire.
The wreck, which stopped the race under a red flag that lasted 21 minutes, 47 seconds, was the coup de grace for two-time Martinsville winner Brad Keselowski, who had sustained damage in two earlier accidents.
“It’s just unfortunate that we got caught up in it,” Keselowski said. “The track was blocked. I think I was just barely going to get stopped in time, and somebody clobbered me from behind and just tore us up. It’s a bummer. I think we were really good.”
“We drove up into the top five and lost the power-steering. I was able to manhandle it around the race track, but I couldn’t get down pit road where you go to turn in your pit box… Just one of those compounding, frustrating short-track days, but we had decent speed.”