RICHMOND, VA — Martin Truex Jr. is happy to score his first top five finish of the season in Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at the Richmond (VA) Raceway. Don’t get him wrong. But, he’s also frustrated too. See, in a season that it’s going to take likely a win to make it into the playoffs and definitely wins and every playoff point mattering in the postseason, Truex felt like 5 bonus points got away from him in the end of the race with how things transpired.
Truex and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate of Christopher Bell had the best cars all day long. They were basically untouchable.
The second stage saw them go on opposite strategies only to grab the top two spots in the end on varying philosophies. Truex and his team felt like they could do the stage on two stops. Bell , was one of six drivers thinking they could stretch it on one.
With Richmond being so abrasive on tires, it made more sense to do the stage with pitting twice. You can run faster throughout it with new tires in the middle and then again after. However, by not pitting that extra time, you had an extra set laying in the pits for the final stage and potentially less time on pit road.
It landed Truex the stage win and Bell second. They’d both pit on Lap 233 under the stage break. So did everyone else on the lead lap.
But, with two early cautions, it opened up another strategy. Some of those with extra tires pit on the first caution. Bell didn’t. Denny Hamlin did. So did William Byron and others who weren’t really factors at that point.
The final caution fell quickly after which brought down Truex, Bell and everyone else that didn’t pit on Lap 247.
Byron and Hamlin now had strategy plays that could pay off. Byron, pit on Lap 310 but never again. It cost him. Truex did so on Lap 323. That proved costly too because Hamlin and Kevin Harvick pit on Lap 352 (Harvick) and Lap 353 (Hamlin). They had fresher tires for the final run and caught Byron and Truex.
Not only did Truex not get by Byron, but he was passed by both and fell to finish fourth.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s frustrating,” Truex Jr. said after leading 80 of 400 laps on Sunday. “But that’s part of it here. It’s part of the whole day. Obviously we did good there for awhile.
“(Crew chief) James (Small) did a great job all day with strategy, getting us up front, getting us the lead. Our Auto Owners Camry TRD was super fast out front, super fast in clean air.
“At the end I think we just tried to gamble, tried to gamble on beating the 24. He ended up trying to do our strategy, which we both screwed up.
“Obviously heads up the other way, I think we had the best car. Doesn’t matter. Overall I’m really proud of our guys and really a step in the right direction from Phoenix, completely different mindset coming here, after today what we can do going forward. Excited about that.
“Just thanks to everybody at TRD, Toyota, everybody back at JGR for working their butts off.”
Still, it was his 7th straight top five on the .75-mile short track and 4th top 8 in the last 5 races on the season too. We’re heading to another strong track for him next Saturday night in Martinsville to where he’s won 3 of the last 5 races at too.
For Bell, this was his 3rd straight top 6 at Richmond and 3rd top 10 in the last 5 races on the season too.