Martin Truex Jr. had a good car. He was looking to three-peat the Toyota/Save Mart 350 and his No. 19 Toyota was there in the end to seize the opportunity. The problem was, the mixture of Kyle Larson being just too good and the late race chaos didn’t allow Truex to be the one celebrating in victory lane for the fourth time of his career at the Sonoma Raceway.
Truex, had to settle for third for his third straight top three result in wine country and fourth top five in his last five starts. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver says that while he had a fast car, the only way he was going to win was if the race to the checkered had a long green flag run.
“Our only hope was for it really to go green the rest of the race there in that third stage once we both pitted and we were one-two,” Truex said. “He (Kyle Larson) drove by me and he was just super fast for 10 laps. Our only chance was if the race would have gone green from there and I still don’t even know. He was really fast for 15 laps then obviously once we started getting all those cautions, we were toast. Definitely not what we needed.”
Most of the race was clean. We saw just four cautions in the first 69 laps, two of stage breaks and one for a competition yellow. There were four in a 17 lap span after. That hurt Truex.
Still, another top five is still good enough to hold his hat on as he went off strategy from everyone, then even Larson in the second stage but it didn’t pay off.
He pit on Lap 9, one lap shy of the scheduled competition caution then again on Lap 21, the first lap after the opening stage ended. They were on the same strategy was Larson and Chase Elliott. But, when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. brought out a caution on Lap 31, it opened the door for some strategy calls.
See, at that point, everyone could pit under that caution and know they can make it to the end on just one more stop. But, you also had a stage break coming soon too. Where do you pit?
Most hit pit lane on Lap 32. Larson and Truex stayed out. Truex wanted to see what he had for Larson. They quickly found out — not much. So, they were going to do the opposite of Larson at the end of the stage. If Larson pit, then Truex would stay out. If he didn’t, then they’d pit.
Larson, didn’t pit and took the second stage win of the day. Truex, hit pit lane on Lap 37. He’d not have to pit at the end of the stage like Larson now did, but several other cars that pit on Lap 32 would be ahead of him.
They didn’t keep Truex back long. He quickly rose back through the field. The problem was, so did Larson. They’d get to the top two spots before the final pit sequence. Elliott, pit on Lap 61. Truex, pit a lap later. Larson pit on Lap 63.
That move paid off. Truex passed Larson as he was exiting pit lane. Larson, got him back shortly after though as his No. 5 Chevrolet was just too good.