Truex Jr. wins Sunday’s rain delayed Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 in Martinsville, my top 5 takeaways

Denny Hamlin didn’t have good long run pace. Ryan Blaney had a bad final pit stop which got him penalized and as a result took him out of contention of winning Sunday’s rain delayed NASCAR Cup Series race at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway. Both opened up the door for Martin Truex Jr. to win the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500.

Truex, won the race off pit road during the final pit stop on Lap 454. Hamlin, was second with Blaney exiting fifth. But, Blaney ran over his air gun and took it out of his box pox which is a penalty. He’d go from fifth to 19th because of that.

Hamlin, beat Truex on the restart and took over the lead on the initial lap. But, as was the case all day, his No. 11 Toyota fell off as the run went on. Blaney was the benefactor all race because of that. He led 157 laps including sweeping both stages as when Hamlin would get out to an early lead following restarts, Blaney always chased him down and passed him.

This time, Blaney wasn’t there. It was Truex.

MARTINSVILLE, VIRGINIA – APRIL 11: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 11, 2021 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Truex, caught the rear bumper of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate in the closing laps and finally cleared him for the top spot on Lap 484. He’d never look back in leading the final 16 laps en route to his 29th career victory and second straight on the .526-mile Virginia paperclip.

In fact, Truex has now won three of the last four Martinsville races and honestly looks like the championship favorite right now. More on that in a few.

“Yeah, it was interesting how it all played out there,” Truex said following his win. “I thought throughout the day we were a third- to a fifth-place car in there. At one point in the middle of the race we got off a little bit, probably a sixth- or seventh-place car. It was kind of a weird day.

“Proud of the guys for working hard on it. They did a great job. That last pit stop we were able to get us the lead. Couldn’t quite hold off the 11 on that restart. He was really fast firing off. Just tried to stay with him and take care of my car. Knew there was enough laps left that tire wear in the long run was going to come into play.

“He started getting tight, our car was getting better and better. We were able to take advantage of it. Really happy. For whatever reason our car really turned on when the lights went down. Always good when a plan comes together and it works out the way you hoped it would.”

Hamlin slid back to third in the end to score his fourth top five in his last six starts at Martinsville including seven top five’s in eight starts on the season. He led a race-high 276 of 500 laps but couldn’t get the job done due to his car falling off.

Hamlin said that there wasn’t much they could do during the race to make his car better saying, “I had what I had.”

He said that the only thing that he could since he had such a good short run car was that he would run as hard as he could for the time that it was good.

“If I could build a gap over the guy that was behind me, it would just take him longer to get to me,” Hamlin continued. “Instead of me trying to ride and save my stuff, all I did was let those guys, when my car started fading, they were right on me instead of half a straightaway back. Those are the cards we were dealt.

“The reason we even took the lead on that final restart is because we were good on the short runs. We made sure we preserved what strong suit we did have, which was the first 20 laps.

I thought it was a matter of time,” Hamlin said of Truex catching him in the end. “With about 25 to go or so, he already got into my rear bumper, kind of beating the back end off. It was just a matter of time.

“The only hope, we had an extra set of tires over everyone. Hell, we would have pitted, taken tires, restarted 20th. That wasn’t going to work either.

“Tough to say. We weren’t stuck in a box where we could make good in a long run. The reason we led so many laps is we had a lot of short runs, great starts in the middle of the race, not much green flag racing. When we had green flag racing, again, we were fast a little time, not a lot of time.”

Hamlin said that Sunday was a good baseline for them for when they come back in November.

“I mean, I think that we were better here than what we were in the fall,” he said. “When we got back in the back of the pack in the fall, we just were not very good in traffic. Luckily for us we stayed up front all day today. We didn’t have to fight much traffic, other than lap cars. By then our car was starting to fade anyway.

“We’ll just have to really look at the data and see where our strengths and weaknesses is, really digest into the 19 car and see where they’re different, what approach they have that’s different that’s making them so good at the end of this race.”

He also said that he can definitely find some positives through the early start to this season. He’s doing the best he can do and that’s why they need to come out of every weekend. That’s his goal as a driver to do everything that he can possible do to win and not make mistakes in doing so.

“Yeah, I mean, yeah, there’s just nothing I could have done I feel as a driver differently today,” said Hamlin. “I feel like I executed well on pit road. Obviously we were the only car that was able to take the lead on the restart on the outside multiple times. Sometimes the cards are dealt to you where you got a short run car, and at the end of the race comes down to a 40-lap run. That’s just outside your window of greatness.

“It’s just been amazing the execution that our team has had over the first eight races. Short of a pit road penalty I had on the last pit stop at Homestead, we finished top three every single week.

“It’s hard to be disappointed with that. We’re executing phenomenal. We just haven’t had that dominant car that we’ve had a few times last year that we just beat up on everyone. We just haven’t had that car yet. We’ve just been next best.

“This was just the seventh of eight races that I’ve done that, where I feel like there’s nothing else I could have done to change the outcome. So all you can do is concentrate on your job. Chris will concentrate on his, making the car better. Pit crew is getting better every single week. Everyone, as long as they stay calm and continue to focus on their job, nothing more, we’re going to continue to get better.

“The way we’re running, we can win any given week. We’ve just gotten beat by one or two cars each and every week that have just hit the setup a little bit better than we did.

“But it is, like you said, hard to complain. I don’t know what the record is for most points scored in eight races, but I think we pretty much got to be there (laughter). We don’t finish any worse than third in every stage, obviously we’re finishing in the top three or four every race.

“Just keep building on that, look at the positives, try not to be negative. Wins, we’re getting closer. We’re getting there.”

Chase Elliott passed Hamlin in the final laps and crossed the finish line 1.972-seconds behind Truex Jr. It was Elliott’s third straight top five in Martinsville and fourth in his last five tries there overall. This was his third top 10 in the last four races on the season as well.

“Really, really hard-fought second actually for us,” Elliott said. “We were not great, but had some, I guess our strong suit was kind of early on in the run, then really faded hard, too hard there latter part of a run.

“But we never got one of those super long runs, which is probably a good thing for us because we were struggling on that end. But, yeah, proud we could fight back. We had a long day with strategy not going our way, restart lane choice at times was tough. I’m glad we were able to get back in the fight there and give ourselves a chance.”

Two of Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammates rounded out the top five with William Byron finishing fourth in his No. 24 Chevrolet and Kyle Larson fifth in his No. 5 Chevrolet.

MARTINSVILLE, VIRGINIA – APRIL 10: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Pennzoil Ford, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 10, 2021 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Martinsville’s Final Results Looked Like Phoenix’ and That Means Something

Three drivers that finished in the top five at Phoenix finished in the top five in Martinsville. Where this is big is, both use similar racing packages in both are the 750 horsepower tracks. Both are also the final two races of the season as well.

If you can snag a win when we come back to Martinsville in November, then you’ll get yourself into the Championship 4 so long as you’re still in the playoffs. Then, with Phoenix next to decide who wins this year’s title, if you can do what Chase Elliott did a year ago and go back-to-back, then you’re the champion.

Right now, there’s a select group of drivers that are standing out on 750 horsepower tracks. Martin Truex Jr. looks like a championship favorite because he’s excelled at both venues in 2021. In fact, he’s won both races.

He has four top six results in his last six starts on the season and two of them are wins (Phoenix, Martinsville). He looked really good in the final stage at Phoenix and his No. 19 Toyota was third in both stages on Sunday and capitalized in the end. He’s now won three of the last four at Martinsville. Who’s to say he can’t win again in November?

Hamlin, was third in both races this year too and is right on the heels of Truex. Joey Logano was runner-up in Phoenix and sixth in Martinsville. Chase Elliott was fifth in Phoenix and runner-up in Martinsville. He won both playoff races last year. All three were in the Championship 4 a year ago.

In fact, Truex and Elliott have combined to win the last four at Martinsville and were 1-2 on Sunday. These are the two drivers to beat when we come back in November.

Then you have Kyle Larson who was seventh in Phoenix and fifth in Martinsville. His teammate William Byron was eighth and fourth respectively. You can’t overlook either of them to bump one of the previous four out come this Fall.

What about Christopher Bell. He won on a 750 track on the Daytona road course back in February and was ninth and seventh in the other two.

Kevin Harvick has a pair of top 10’s while Ryan Blaney was 10th in Phoenix but 11th in Martinsville. That 11th place run isn’t indicative on how good he’s been on the paperclip was he led 157 laps and swept both stages. He had at the very least a top five going before that final pit stop mishap. He was also runner-up in both Martinsville races last year too.

That’s why all these guys are distancing themselves as championship contenders right now.

Penske vs. JGR A Fun Battle On 750’s, HMS Right There Behind Both

Last year, Team Penske held the title as the best organization on the 750 tracks. With how important they were in 2021 with the addition of more road courses and an emphasis on short tracks too, there are now more 750 tracks than before. With how many are in the playoffs, including the final two races, you better get them right.

So, that’s why the Toyota’s spent a lot of time this past offseason trying to improve on them. It’s paying off. They’re 3-for-4 this year.

Truex Jr. swept both Martinsville and Phoenix while Bell won at Daytona. Factor in Denny Hamlin having a top five in all three and you get a trio that’s excelling on them.

Because of that, the Penske’s have dipped a bit. Yes, Logano has a win but that was on dirt at Bristol. He was runner-up at Daytona (road course) as well as Phoenix but he didn’t look the greatest Sunday in Martinsville. He was ninth and 18th respectively in the two stages and finished sixth. Still, he’s close to the JGR cars with three top two results in four tries on them.

Ryan Blaney was no where to be found on the Daytona road course, was only 10th in Phoenix and 11th in Martinsville. If you dig deeper though, he led 157 laps and was a bad final stop away from a top five on Sunday. He’s close.

Brad Keselowski was fifth on the Daytona road course, fourth at Phoenix and 33rd in Martinsville. Keselowski, had a top 10 car before getting caught up in a crash. His streak of fifth straight top fives and nine in his last 10 including 10 straight top 10’s comes to an end in Martinsville.

These three and the three at JGR are six guys who are going to be tough to beat on 750’s this year. I didn’t even mention Kyle Busch who can easily get things going eventually.

With HMS having three cars in the top five at Martinsville and three in the top eight in Phoenix, they’re right there behind both.

“Just rear grip for me was kind of the story of my day,” Elliott said on what they’re missing in regards to the JGR cars on these tracks. “That was also the problem there at the end. Just didn’t have the drive I needed to get up off the corner like I wanted and to be able to really get the power down early.

Yeah, solid day, but just came up short.”

1st Repeat Winner Of 2021

For a while, it was looking like we’d go 8-for-8 in terms of different winners in 2021. Then, Martin Truex Jr. caught and passed Denny Hamlin for the win Sunday in Martinsville. Still, Hamlin is going to win a race soon. He has a top five in all but one race this year and heading to a track at Richmond to where he has seven top six finishes in his last eight tries.

Brad Keselowski could be the one to beat though next Sunday. He won last year at Richmond and has five straight top 10’s there. He also has a top five in all but one race run on 750 tracks in 2021 too.

Chase Elliott has three top fives in his last five starts at Richmond. He has two top fives on 750 tracks, both consecutively. Then you have Kevin Harvick who has eight top seven’s in his last nine Richmond starts and a top 10 in all three races on 750 tracks this season.

The four of these drivers combined to win 25 of 36 races a year ago. They’re 0-for-8 in 2021. Would you take one of them or the field next weekend?

After we get Talladega which could easily spark another new winner, followed by Kansas to where Hamlin won the first of two races there in 2020, Keselowski has a pair of top fives in as many tries including three in his last four tries there, Harvick with a pair of top fives as well there and Elliott with four top six results in his last five Kansas starts.

Then it’s to Darlington to where Hamlin and Harvick split wins at last year with Harvick winning two of the three races and Hamlin the other. They each won the two races at Dover last year as well and that’s the next stop after Darlington. Then, we go to COTA followed by the Coke 600 at Charlotte to close the month of May. Keselowski and Elliott won the two oval races there last year.

That’s why I can’t see these four going winless over the next seven weeks. In fact, I can see all four winning over this timeframe which would bump us up to 11 winners already in the season if so.

Harvick and Busch Need To Show Me More

Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch had nice streaks going in terms of Championship 4 appearances. Coming into 2020, each had made the final round of the Cup Series playoffs in 5 of 6 years including three combined championships. But, neither made it to the final round last year and as things sit now, I don’t think either get back in 2021 neither.

Yes, Kevin Harvick has six top 10’s in eight starts in 2021. But, he also has just two top five finishes too and has only led a total of 17 laps.

Kyle Busch has four top 10’s now including all coming in the last six races, but only one of those finishes were better than fifth and he’s only led seven laps all year too.

They’ve also feasted on playoff points in years past but right now, they’ve each scored zero. Neither looked very strong in Phoenix and the same goes for Martinsville.

Harvick, was 20th and 15th respectively in the two stages on Sunday to finish a quiet ninth.

Busch, was 11th and ninth respectively himself and finished 10th.

MARTINSVILLE, VIRGINIA – APRIL 10: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Menards/Pennzoil Ford, drives during the NASCAR Cup Series Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 10, 2021 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Solid Day For Hendrick Motorsports Sunday In Martinsville

No one has won as many races at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway as Hendrick Motorsports. They’ve won 25 times in the rich history of this race track. While they didn’t put a driver in victory lane in Sunday’s rain delayed Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500, they did put three of their four in the top five when it was all said and done.

Chase Elliott passed Denny Hamlin late to finish runner-up to Martin Truex Jr. It was Elliott’s third straight top five finish at Martinsville including four in his last five tries there overall. He didn’t lead a lap, but was fourth in both stages and was next best in class. It was a day that he’s been wanting though, something uneventful.

“Yeah, I mean, like I said, every week I feel like it’s been one thing or another, a bad run or just whatever,” Elliott said. “Just nice to have just a smooth day, no damage. We didn’t break anything. Everything was just smooth. It was uneventful. That’s the days you have to have to compete for wins ultimately. Some of that is in your hands, some of it’s not.

“Truly nice to have an uneventful day, so to speak, just get a solid finish. Got some solid stage points. It was definitely a step in the right direction for us.

“Just nice to have an uneventful day, so to speak. Just have some nice stage points, have a nice finish, those things are always nice. I feel like we had a mistake-free day, which is what you have to have, so it was good.”

William Byron had a quiet fourth place finish in his No. 24 Chevrolet. Byron, now has three top eight results in his last four Martinsville starts including six straight on the season. He’s looking like one of the most improved drivers in the series this year and is a very underrated driver who is showing that he can make a deep playoff run this Fall.

Kyle Larson rounded out the top five in his No. 5 Chevrolet for his fourth top five in his last six starts of 2021. He has a top 10 in all but two starts this season which is why he’s looking like a legitimate threat to make the Championship 4 in his first year with HMS.

The proof is in the pudding. Martinsville has statistically been one of Larson’s worst tracks of his career as Sunday was his first top five in his last eight Martinsville starts. But there he was up front for much of the day and showing that HMS is here to stay again.

Alex Bowman had a solid day until getting caught up in a crash on Lap 385. He was seventh in Stage 1 and fifth in the second stage as he was looking like a top 10 car as well.

Top Stat

The eventual race winner at Martinsville has finished in the top five of the opening stage in all nine races now. Furthermore, they’ve also finished in the top three of the second stage in 8 of those 9 races too. Truex, finished third in both on Sunday.

Of Note

JGR and Penske has now won 5 of the last 6 at Martinsville including 6 of the last 7 overall.

Top Quote

“Yeah, I think so,” Truex said on if this season feels like 2018 and 2019 again. “I mean, I feel really good about our team, overall what we can do this year. Our cars are strong. Our team is strong. We’ve been together a long time. Obviously last year James was the new piece moving to crew chief, but, man, he’s done a great job. Last year, for whatever reason, seemed like we were missing the tiniest little things. Sometimes it wasn’t even things we were doing wrong. Sometimes you feel like things aren’t meant to be, honestly.

“Feeling good about it. Got a great team. Pit crew really stepped up today. Got a great stop on the last one that got us the lead. We got all the tools necessary. Great sponsors, Bass Pro, Auto-Owners, Reser’s, TRD and Toyota, all they did for us. We have a great opportunity to win a lot of races. Hopefully we can take advantage of it this year more than we did last year.”


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