NASCAR results: Martin Truex Jr. wins Cup race at Darlington Raceway

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No driver had ever won a stage at Darlington and gone on to take the checkered flag until Martin Truex Jr. not only snapped that streak, but soundly buried it Sunday. Truex swept the first two stages of NASCAR’s Cup race, the Goodyear 400, and led all but 45 laps at the track deemed “Too Tough To Tame.”

“Throwing it back to an old school (butt) whooping,” the No. 19 radio cheered after the team’s third win of the season.

Truex credited the race package: “I love low downforce,” he said.

Truex holds off late push from Larson

The driver put nearly 15 seconds between him and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch to close the end of the second stage. That lead shrunk to around three seconds in the final 60 laps, but Truex’s car wouldn’t give up its dominant speed with clean air out front.

Then came a big move from Kyle Larson winding down to the final 50 laps. Larson passed Busch to move into second place, then raced to within a second of Truex with 30 to go to make the leader nervous for the first time.

“The 5 car scared me at the end,” JGR team owner Joe Gibbs said.

“Me too!” added Truex.

It was a rundown that included a bold move by Larson, running three-wide and threading between the lapped cars of Ryan Newman and Tyler Reddick in an effort to catch the No. 19.

“I knew I needed to make quick work of them if I wanted to have an opportunity to get to Martin,” Larson said. “The 6 kind of pulled lower than I thought he would and I saw the door open and put my nose through it and came out the other side.”

Larson’s pass was successful (“glad I didn’t wreck there”) but his car ultimately didn’t have enough for the leader at the end. He finished in second. Busch, who won last weekend at Kansas, finished in third.

Hamlin’s not worried about no win: “Just the law of averages”

Truex earned his 30th career win, only his second at Darlington, but said the high horsepower and low downforce engine and aero package have worked well for his team this year. He won at Phoenix and Martinsville with the same package, which NASCAR changed for Darlington this season.

“From a statistics standpoint, they’re gonna say it’s not a good race cause Truex dominated,” said Denny Hamlin, who finished in fifth.

Both Hamlin and Busch noted how much the cars were sliding with the low grip levels, but Hamlin called it a “driver’s racetrack.”

The No. 11 driver earned his ninth top-five finish in 12 races this season, led five laps and finished the first two stages in the top-five, but was never able to challenge for the lead. He said his car went through a big swing from the start of the race to the finish and faded in the second half for the worst balance he’s had all year. Hamlin, who won seven races last season (three in the first 12 races), said he didn’t have any doubt that a win for his team was on the horizon.

“Just the law of averages,” Hamlin said. “You can’t be in the top-two, three the entire race and not win a race ... Eventually the odds start coming back to you.”

Byron’s top-10 roll continues

William Byron also had another strong finish Sunday. He finished in fourth for his 10th top-10 in a row since winning at Homestead, and his fourth top-five finish this year. Byron said that he feels like his No. 24 Chevrolet has been in the mix lately with the top teams.

“We’re in that kind of fourth-to-sixth range right now,” Byron said. “So we just have to break that seal to get into the top-two or three.”

The Charlotte driver said the team is “getting close” to reaching that speed alongside the cars of Larson and Truex. He appeared cheerful both before and after the race, despite the emotional challenge of announcing earlier this week that his mother is starting treatment soon for a brain tumor.

He drove with a green ribbon decal with the words “Mom” and “Ephesians 3:20” on the side of his Throwback Valvoline paint scheme that honored Neil Bonnett. The 23-year-old raced with the Bible verse written on his dashboard when he first started driving and said he planned to eat some ice cream with his mother, Dana, when he returned home.

“We didn’t really know when we wanted to tell everybody (about the diagnosis),” Byron said. “It was kind of all on her terms, but she’s been awesome with it.”

NASCAR infield reopening

Sunday also saw the return of more guests in the infield, including vaccinated media members, and around a 35 percent of the grandstand capacity filled with fans. Darlington Raceway announced Friday with two other tracks, Daytona and Kansas, that it would reopen the stands fully to fans for races in the late summer and early fall.

Gibbs stressed the importance to the infield reopening for teams aiming to sell sponsorships and establish business relationships post-pandemic.

“Evidently in the fall we’re going to have the place packed,” Gibbs said. “It’s very important, too, to get those key people from the companies back into our sport, and I’m looking forward to getting to go again and do hospitalities.”

Most pandemic protocols are remaining in place for now, however, meaning Truex celebrated solo. He said that his brother-in-law who works on the NASCAR Trucks team that won Friday’s race wasn’t allowed to enter Victory Lane. Truex also shared that the same brother-in-law gave him grief before the race by joking that NASCAR going away from a low downforce package would be all his fault.

“He’ll tell me tonight when I go home, ‘You did it again. You stunk up the show.’” Truex said. “So sorry, not sorry.”

Race results

Pos.

Car

Driver

Time behind

Laps

Best time

Best speed

1

19

Martin Truex Jr.

--

293

29.473

166.851

2

5

Kyle Larson

2.571

293

30.19

162.888

3

18

Kyle Busch

6.209

293

29.633

165.95

4

24

William Byron

17.067

293

29.894

164.501

5

11

Denny Hamlin

21.939

293

29.76

165.242

6

4

Kevin Harvick

23.951

293

29.215

168.324

7

9

Chase Elliott

24.739

293

30.185

162.915

8

12

Ryan Blaney

26.667

293

30.218

162.737

9

17

Chris Buescher

27.077

293

30.127

163.229

10

6

Ryan Newman

-1

292

30.433

161.588

11

14

Chase Briscoe #

-1

292

30.334

162.115

12

8

Tyler Reddick

-1

292

29.82

164.909

13

22

Joey Logano

-1

292

29.795

165.048

14

20

Christopher Bell

-1

292

30.13

163.213

15

42

Ross Chastain

-2

291

30.56

160.916

16

3

Austin Dillon

-2

291

30.248

162.576

17

48

Alex Bowman

-2

291

30.377

161.886

18

43

Erik Jones

-2

291

30.743

159.958

19

21

Matt DiBenedetto

-3

290

30.175

162.969

20

47

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

-3

290

30.547

160.985

21

23

Bubba Wallace

-3

290

30.709

160.135

22

7

Corey LaJoie

-3

290

30.708

160.141

23

99

Daniel Suarez

-3

290

30.572

160.853

24

2

Brad Keselowski

-3

290

29.43

167.095

25

37

* Ryan Preece

-3

290

30.693

160.219

26

38

Anthony Alfredo #

-4

289

30.825

159.533

27

34

Michael McDowell

-5

288

30.465

161.418

28

77

Justin Haley(I)

-5

288

30.826

159.528

29

53

JJ Yeley(i)

-7

286

31.188

157.676

30

0

Quin Houff

-7

286

31.333

156.946

31

15

James Davison

-7

286

31.131

157.965

32

78

BJ McLeod(i)

-8

285

31.089

158.178

33

52

Josh Bilicki

-48

245

31.689

155.183

34

51

Cody Ware(i)

-105

188

31.074

158.254

35

1

Kurt Busch

-187

106

30.582

160.8

36

41

Cole Custer

-196

97

30.668

160.35

37

10

Aric Almirola

-288

5

30.743

159.958