MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Up until two years ago, the prevailing storyline at NASCAR Cup Series short-track races was Martin Truex Jr.’s career winless streak on bullrings at stock car racing’s top level.
With his win Sunday night in the Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway, Truex turned that narrative on its head, becoming one of the new masters of the discipline.
Truex, who didn’t lead for the first time until lap 455 Sunday, prevailed in a door-slamming slugfest with his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin and then drove away down the home stretch.
After Hamlin led seven times for a race-high 276 laps, Truex ran down the No. 11 FedEx Toyota with a deeper entry into the corners and converted long-run speed into a pivotal triumph.
Truex raced side by side with Hamlin for nearly four full laps before clearing Hamlin for good on lap 485.
The Mayetta, N.J., native led the final 16 laps uncontested and drove away to a 1.972-second victory over Chase Elliott, with Hamlin fading to third in the final rundown.
It was Truex’s third Martinsville win in the last four races at the .526-mile Virginia paper clip, after he previously went 0-for-80 on short tracks to start his NASCAR Cup Series career.
“This is unbelievable. This place has become a playground for us, I guess,” Truex said. “We didn’t have the best car all day, but we just kept working on it and never quit on it. … This Bass Pro/Tracker Toyota Camry came on at the end and that’s when it counts.
“There’s something about when the lights come on here; we’re really good [at night]. That was cool.”
Though Truex led only 20 laps all afternoon, he was all smiles at the perseverance that his team put in to come out ahead when it mattered. He also became the first repeat winner of the Cup Series season.
“It was pretty incredible there at the end. The Bass Pro Toyota – James (Small, crew chief) and the guys really hung with me all day. We never could get quite where we wanted it, but it started getting dark and she came to life,” Truex tipped. “I can’t believe we won here again after not having the dominant car here today, for sure. That was a lot of fun there racing at the end with Denny (Hamlin).
“We raced clean and we were able to come out on top.”
Despite a race that ran its first 42 laps Saturday night, was suspended by rain and featured 15 cautions for 102 yellow-flag laps, a 42-lap, green-flag run to the finish proved to be Hamlin’s undoing.
A lap-386 pileup that collected 12 cars on the backstretch and stopped the proceedings for nearly 22 minutes couldn’t slow Hamlin’s march, but the final caution on lap 452 for a spinning Chase Briscoe did.
Truex won the race off pit road, establishing control for a brief moment before Hamlin took control back on the restart by driving back to the lead from the non-dominant outside lane.
Truex stayed with his teammate, knowing he could pounce if the run wore on longer and longer.
Finally, that chance came inside of 25 to go as Hamlin’s Toyota began to slip. Truex started working to the inside, against the curb in the corners, while Hamlin tried to diamond the corners to make speed.
The approach for Truex eventually paid off, as Hamlin simply didn’t have the speed late to hold on.
“That was just the cards we were dealt. We had a really good short run car,” noted Hamlin. “We just didn’t have a good long run car. We saved a set of tires – we had the tire advantage – but we couldn’t get the car to turn on the long run. That was the bugaboo, you could say. Overall, though, the FedEx Camry team performed well. We had a really fast car for 20 laps or so, and then it would just kind of go away.
“Fortunately for us, we had a great day and gave ourselves a shot at it, but just weren’t quite good enough.”
Behind Truex, Elliott – who slipped by for second with six laps left – and Hamlin, the Hendrick Motorsports duo of William Byron and Kyle Larson filled out the top five.
Sixth through 10th were Joey Logano, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch.
Six drivers – Michael McDowell, Daniel Suarez, Brad Keselowski, Alex Bowman, Justin Haley and Ryan Preece – were eliminated during the multi-car accident with 115 to go that started after contact between Chris Buescher and Kyle Busch created a chain-reaction pileup off the exit of turn two.
The NASCAR Cup Series season continues April 18 at Richmond (Va.) Raceway, the first spring race at the three-quarter-mile, D-shaped oval since 2019. Last year’s race was lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.