Martin Truex Jr. has been racing now for several decades. The thing is, out of thousands of races that he’s ever run over the course of his 40 years of life, Monday’s rain delayed NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on the dirt track at the Bristol Motor Speedway was just his second time ever to race on dirt.
You wouldn’t have ever known that stat though. That’s because Truex Jr. led a race-high 105 of 150 laps en route to the dominating victory in his No. 51 Toyota.
Truex, swept both stages and led the final 57 laps in what was also his first career Truck Series victory at that. He becomes the 36th driver to win in all three national divisions of NASCAR.
“It’s unbelievable, really,” said Truex Jr. “I guess they had to put dirt on Bristol to get me back to victory lane here. It’s been a long time. Man, that was a blast. I’m still really surprised.
“I wanted to run this race because I wanted to get more experience for the Cup car and we got out there in practice and it felt really good. I was having a lot of fun. So, I just kept trying to work with the guys and telling them what I needed.
“That was a blast. I kept thinking, ‘what’s going to happen next? Am I going to get a flat tire or something stupid?”
Truex said that he did feel pressure with this truck “pretty much used to being in victory lane, so a lot of pressure there.”
This was also his first start in literally 5,400 days in the series as the last came at Michigan in 2006. He finished 34th that race. The only other time that he’s ran in this series was in 2005 in Milwaukee. He finished 19th.
So, for just his third career Truck start, the first in 15 years and only his second ever start on dirt, for him to lead all but 45 laps and reach victory lane was nothing short of amazing.
He outlasted Ben Rhodes who missed a shift on the final restart to bring his No. 99 Ford home in second. It was Rhodes’ third top two result in five races run this season. He was seventh and second respectively in the two stages.
Raphael Lessard got a much needed top five with bringing his No. 24 Chevrolet home in third. He’s had a rough start to the season in his GMS Racing Truck with finishes of 23rd, 26th, 30th and 39th prior to today.
“This was important for my team, everyone around me for the confidence,” Lessard said. “The beginning of this year we had a lot of speed and were showing it during the race, but every time there was something happening at the end whether I made a mistake, something broke, a flat tire. We just never had the result we wanted. I’m really happy with a third place finish here and we need to really turn it back around to keep going in that direction. It was a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season.”
Todd Gilliland and Chase Briscoe rounded out the top five in a wild race. Both drivers steadily moved their ways though the field with Gilliland finishing 12th in Stage 1, sixth in the second stage and fourth in his No. 38 Ford in the end. Briscoe, started 33rd and improved 28 spots by the end. He was 11th at the end of the first stage, fourth at Stage 2 and fifth in his No. 04 Ford at the drop of the checkered flag.
BRISTOL, TENNESSEE – MARCH 29: Ben Rhodes, driver of the #99 Bombardier LearJet 75 Toyota, leads the field during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Pinty’s Truck Race on Dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 29, 2021 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Fun Race, Hard To Get Any Momentum
Kudos to track officials for getting this .533-mile oval ready to race on time on Monday. The racing surface did exactly what it was supposed to do early. The beginning of the race had the most grip while the track got dried out, took rubber and became slick as the race went on. That’s day time dirt track racing for you.
“I’m hoping they can put the track back for the Cup race where they started the Truck race,” Truex Jr. said following his win. “I have no idea on how to do that and what it entails. Maybe we need a couple of monsoons before it can get back to that.
“It was a lot of fun in the beginning and to just see how much the track changed was a lot of fun. If it stays like it is now, the Cup race is going to be super slick.”
Truex said that the track held moisture throughout the race from the top to the bottom of the surface, but you couldn’t run the top though because of too much loose dirt and the bottom groove was really slippery. He said that’s why earlier in the race you could move around a lot more than the end.
The thing is, as the race went on, the better the racing went though.
We had 12 cautions in 150 laps overall but nine of those occurred in the opening 90 laps run. It was hard to get in any kind of groove with four cautions in the first 40 laps including the opening stage break. Lap 12, Lap 26 and again on Lap 34 brought out yellows.
In the second stage, we’d see five cautions in 50 laps run. Lap 48, Lap 62, Lap 69, Lap 79 and Lap 90. It was hard to rattle off 10 consecutive laps of green flag action up until that point.
The final stage went better with only two cautions in the final 60 laps of action, for what provided much better racing.
The hard part was, the most consecutive green flag laps run all day was 13.
BRISTOL, TENNESSEE – MARCH 29: Matt Crafton, driver of the #88 ThorSport Racing Toyota, Stewart Friesen, driver of the #52 Halmar International Toyota, Austin Hill, driver of the #16 United Rentals Toyota, and Grant Enfinger, driver of the #98 Champion/Curb Records Toyota, race during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Pinty’s Truck Race on Dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 29, 2021 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Dirt Favorites Struggled Some In Final Stage
Stewart Friesen, Matt Crafton and Sheldon Creed were supposed to be battling for the win on Monday. Friesen and Creed finished 1-2 in the last Truck Series dirt race in Eldora a couple of years ago while Crafton is also a previous Eldora Dirt Derby winner. The trio started out great with Creed finishing second in Stage 1, Friesen fourth and Crafton eighth. In the second stage, they were still 5th (Creed), 7th (Friesen) and 12th (Crafton).
That’s where it all changed.
They’d finish 12th (Friesen), 14th (Crafton) and 16th (Creed) when it was all said and done. That allowed for guys like Truex Jr., Rhodes, Lessard, Briscoe and others to capitalize.
BRISTOL, TENNESSEE – MARCH 29: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #17 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford, Raphael Lessard, driver of the #24 Chevy Accessories Chevrolet, and Timothy Peters, driver of the #25 Rackley Roofing Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Pinty’s Truck Race on Dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 29, 2021 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Cup Ringers’ Days
Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Briscoe took two spots in the top five. That wasn’t the two that most thought would be up front. Briscoe, yes. Truex Jr., no. Everyone would have expected Kyle Larson to compete for the win instead.
Larson, had a rough go of it when he had a bad handling truck for much of Monday afternoon. They finally pit in the second stage under caution for adjustments and when it finally started paying off, he was collected in a crash and finished 35th out of 40 drivers.
Kevin Harvick was 15th while Daniel Suarez was 17th. Bubba Wallace, a former Eldora winner, brought his No. 11 Toyota home in 11th for a quietly impressive day.
BRISTOL, TENNESSEE – MARCH 29: John Hunter Nemechek, driver of the #4 Mobil 1 Toyota, Derek Kraus, driver of the #19 Incredible Bank Toyota, and Timothy Peters, driver of the #25 Rackley Roofing Chevrolet, spin into the wall during the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Pinty’s Truck Race on Dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway on March 29, 2021 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Couple Of Drivers Looking For Mulligans On The Season
Tyler Ankrum and Brett Moffitt would love to start the 2021 season over with. Ankrum, finished last (40th) on Monday for his fourth finish outside of the top 20 in five races run this season. In fact, two of his last three have seen him come home 34th or worse. His best result in 18th (Atlanta).
Moffitt, was only 24th as he’s been 24th or worse in three of the final races run. The brightside for him though is all three were at wildcard tracks in Daytona, Daytona road course and Bristol Dirt.
Still, with as competitive as this series is and both in a large deficit, they need to turn these results around quickly.
Couple Of Drivers Turning Luck Around
Zane Smith, Stewart Friesen and Austin Hill were happy to be leaving Daytona last month. None of them were in the top 10 in either race. Since though, they’ve finally found their footing.
Smith, was 16th and 40th respectively in the two races at Daytona. He’s been sixth, sixth and seventh respectively since.
Hill was 22nd and 33rd respectively himself. In the last three races, he’s been in the top 10 in all and in the top three in two of them.
Friesen was 32nd and 11th in Daytona but has two top 10’s in three races since.
Chandler Smith Needs To Get Going As KBM Off To Strong Start To The Season
Kyle Busch Motorsports is off to one heck of a start to the season. In five races run, they’ve won three of them with three different drivers, including all coming in-a-row. The problem is, Chandler Smith is no where to be found.
John Hunter Nemechek has five stage wins and a race victory in Las Vegas. He’s had four top seven finishes prior to Monday.
Kyle Busch drove the No. 51 Toyota to a win and a runner-up. Now Truex wins in it in just his third career Truck start and first since 2006.
Smith, well he’s finished ninth, 12th, 19th, 35th and 34th respectively. No top fives or even a top seven where his full time teammate has four of them. Drew Dollar has one start, that coming in the 51 Truck at Daytona and even he has a top 10.
While Smith has had some bad luck and three combined races at Daytona and Bristol dirt, it’s still time to show something.
KBM and Toyota have proven that you don’t get very long to gel. Todd Gilliland, Christian Eckes and Raphael Lessard are just the latest examples.
Smith, has time to get this turned around, but with seeing how the other two trucks are contending in 2021, it’s time the No. 18 Toyota finds the front.
KBM has won all but two stages run in 2021 and has the top three drivers in the lap leaders category in what has been an overall strong start to the year for them.
Crafton and Nemechek Have Run In
John Hunter Nemechek is on baby watch. His wife is due with their first child any day now. Unfortunately, he got an early start back home just in case their new baby should happen to come by the end of he night.
Nemechek, had a good day going. He started on the pole, finished fifth in the first stage and was running towards the front when he was punted by Matt Crafton on Lap 48. Nemechek, was left fuming at Crafton for getting crashed at that time.
“Matt (Crafton) just flat ran over me,” Nemechek said after the incident.
That’s not where this story ends though. Nemechek’s spotter and pit crew were also furious with Crafton and had a stare down at one point in pit road. Following the race, a few members of the crews even got into it where luckily no punches were thrown.
Nemechek was also mad at Derek Kraus, as the No. 19 Toyota ran into him while he was sitting there post spin which was that contact was the one that ended his day early.
“The 19, I guess he and his spotter both need a pair of glasses,” Nemechek continued. “I’ll have them ready for them at Richmond.”
“I’m good with change,” said Ben Rhodes. “I’m a big supporter for going to more road courses and short track. I support changing up the schedule. I think when we have too many of one track, it can get stale after a while.
“This was an excellent change I think. I think the racing was really good at least from my perspective it was. I was surprised the outside held on as long as it did. This is the best I’ve ever ran at Bristol, at least the most consistent day I’ve had. They can keep doing it. They don’t even have to take the dirt off. Just run it here all the time.”