Martin Truex Jr. dominates at Martinsville to clinch chance at 2019 championship

Martin Truex Jr. led over 450 laps at Martinsville. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

No one could pass Martin Truex Jr. once he got to the lead.

That sounds like hyperbole. It’s not. No one was able to pass Truex when he was in the lead throughout the 500 laps of racing at Martinsville on Sunday as he clinched a chance to race for his second Cup Series championship at Homestead in November.

Truex had infamously never won at a short track until Sunday. He inherited the lead on lap 30 after teammate Denny Hamlin had a slow pit stop and only gave it up when Kyle Larson stayed out on old tires during a caution near the end of the second stage.

Even then, Truex couldn’t stay away from the lead for long. He chased down Larson within three laps before the end of the stage and then never relinquished the lead. Seriously.

The race featured just three lead changes — Truex’s inheritance of the lead from Hamlin, Larson’s inheritance of the lead from Truex and Truex’s pass of Larson. It was the second-straight Martinsville race with three lead changes. Brad Keselowski’s domination in the spring race at the track was also a race that had three lead changes.

“I don't think anyone expected that,” Truex said. “This racetrack in general, you don't see that. Hats off to my guys. Pit crew was stellar today, and we didn't make many adjustments. We adjusted on early and it came to life, and that was a lot of fun.”

Until the spring race at Martinsville, no race at the track had three lead changes since Richard Petty’s win in the spring of 1967. And the combined six lead changes from the two races in 2019 are still fewer than the lead changes in any individual race at the track since there were four lead changes when Jeff Gordon won the spring race at Martinsville in 1997.

Truex led 464 laps. It’s the most he’s ever led in a single race in his career and the most laps led at Martinsville since Richard Petty led 480 laps in a win at the track in 1970.

Logano and Hamlin have post-race discussion

Things got heated on pit road after the race when Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin had a discussion about contact that resulted in a flat tire for Logano late in the race.

Logano gave Hamlin an extremely mild shove as he walked away, prompting Hamlin to walk after Logano. After that, crew members got involved and made the situation far worse than it needed to be.

What’s with the lack of lead changes?

NASCAR’s move to employ lots of downforce in 2019 seems to have inhibited passing at Martinsville. Drivers and teams noted the increased impact of dirty air after the spring race and it didn’t seem that much changed Sunday. Spots in the top 10 were at a premium and a significant tire difference was the leading cause of the race’s only on-track lead change.

Only three of the six lead changes in the races at Martinsville this season happened on the track. That’s almost unfathomable for a track that routinely has races with 10 or more lead changes. But it’s gotten harder and harder to pass at the half-mile track in 2019 as drivers can drive their cars harder into the corners thanks to the increased downforce.

Chase Elliott’s in a hole

Chase Elliott started at the rear of the field but quickly worked his way toward the front. Until a broken axle early in the second stage ruined his day.

"Just disappointing for a day like that,” Elliott said. “We know better and we can do better than that."

Elliott looks certain to have to win at either Texas or Phoenix to advance to Homestead with a chance at the title thanks to the broken axle. he finished 36th and is 44 points outside the top four.

Playoff standings

1. Martin Truex Jr. (Win at Martinsville)

2. Denny Hamlin, 4,082

3. Kyle Busch, 4,075

4. Joey Logano, 4,072

5. Kevin Harvick, 4,058

6. Ryan Blaney, 4,057

7. Kyle Larson, 4,048

8. Chase Elliott, 4,028

Race results

1. Martin Truex Jr.

2. William Byron

3. Brad Keselowski

4. Denny Hamlin

5. Ryan Blaney

6. Kurt Busch

7. Kevin Harvick

8. Joey Logano

9. Kyle Larson

10. Ryan Newman

11. David Ragan

12. Chris Buescher

13. Bubba Wallace

14. Kyle Busch

15. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

16. Matt DiBenedetto

17. Daniel Hemric

18. Corey LaJoie

19. Ryan Preece

20. Erik Jones

21. Paul Menard

22. Austin Dillon

23. Michael McDowell

24. Ty Dillon

25. Matt Crafton

26. Landon Cassill

27. BJ McLeod

28. JJ Yeley

29. Ross Chastain

30. Alex Bowman

31. Daniel Suarez

32. Garrett Smithley

33. Reed Sorenson

34. Timmy Hill

35. Clint Bowyer

36. Chase Elliott

37. Aric Almirola

38. Jimmie Johnson