NASCAR Barometer:  Martin Truex Jr. Takes Fourth Career Dover Victory

NASCAR Barometer: Martin Truex Jr. Takes Fourth Career Dover Victory

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Martin Truex Jr. held off Ross Chastain to end his 54-race winless streak and scored his fourth career Dover Motor Speedway victory in Monday's rain delayed Wurth 400. The win was a long time coming and stands in contrast to the former champion's 2022 season when he failed to visit Victory Lane and missed the championship playoffs because of it. In February Truex sent a signal through the garage in the first on-track action of the 2023 season in the exhibition Busch Clash, but Monday's win was even more important with a playoff berth as one of its many rewards. Truex and team can now enjoy some easing of the pressure that has built with every passing week since September of 2021, the last time the No. 19 scored a points victory. 

With a win in his pocket and the playoffs ahead, Truex now looks to Kansas Speedway, the next stop in the 2023 season. 23XI Racing captured both wins at the track last season with Kurt Busch taking the first and Bubba Wallace scoring the second. Half of the 16 playoff positions have also now been filled with race-winning drivers. Pressure will continue to mount on winless teams with every week that passes and those remaining eight playoff positions continue to be filled. It might feel too early to be talking about the playoff picture, but that is what will be on every team's mind with the AdventHealth 400 this weekend being their next opportunity to get the job

Martin Truex Jr. held off Ross Chastain to end his 54-race winless streak and scored his fourth career Dover Motor Speedway victory in Monday's rain delayed Wurth 400. The win was a long time coming and stands in contrast to the former champion's 2022 season when he failed to visit Victory Lane and missed the championship playoffs because of it. In February Truex sent a signal through the garage in the first on-track action of the 2023 season in the exhibition Busch Clash, but Monday's win was even more important with a playoff berth as one of its many rewards. Truex and team can now enjoy some easing of the pressure that has built with every passing week since September of 2021, the last time the No. 19 scored a points victory. 

With a win in his pocket and the playoffs ahead, Truex now looks to Kansas Speedway, the next stop in the 2023 season. 23XI Racing captured both wins at the track last season with Kurt Busch taking the first and Bubba Wallace scoring the second. Half of the 16 playoff positions have also now been filled with race-winning drivers. Pressure will continue to mount on winless teams with every week that passes and those remaining eight playoff positions continue to be filled. It might feel too early to be talking about the playoff picture, but that is what will be on every team's mind with the AdventHealth 400 this weekend being their next opportunity to get the job done.

UPGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex added another victory to his Dover tally in Monday's rain-delayed race. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver finished in the top 10 in the first stage. He then moved into the top five in the second segment, and then moved to the top of the order in the final segment, holding off a charging Ross Chastain for the victory. It was the first of the season for Truex and makes him the second Gibbs driver to visit Victory Lane in 2023. The win will also be a sigh of relief after he went winless in 2022 and missed the playoffs as a result. He and the team can now begin focusing their efforts on preparing the best possible playoff challenge they can muster, and this team and driver know how to get that job done. They'll also be anxious to keep their momentum running this week at Kansas where Truex has two prior victories.

William Byron – Byron kept his nose clean and survived the first stage Monday, holding off Denny Hamlin to win the opening 120-lap segment. Byron's strength did not dissipate either as he went on to finish second in the second stage, too. Both opening segments indicated Byron would be a contender for the win at the end of the 400 laps. However, weakness began to show just a bit in the final stage as Byron lost his edge and Truex and Chastain pulled away in front. While he wasn't in the final battle for the victory Byron still captured his fourth top-five finish of the year, setting himself up well for next week's race at Kansas. He has six top-10 Kansas finishes from 10 series starts and brings consecutive top-10 finishes from the last two races into the coming weekend. Byron and his No. 24 team continue to demonstrate championship caliber performance.

Ross Chastain - The No. 1 machine was fast from the green flag Sunday at Dover. His first stage was marked by contact with Brennan Poole, but his speed persisted and Chastain went on to win the second stage with relative ease. It was his fourth stage victory of the season. While Chastain's speed is rarely in question, his habit of racing aggressively in the eyes of other competitors on track continues to be his weak spot. Whether intentional or not, Chastain continues to ruffle feathers and that will come back to bite him at inopportune times. It did Monday when Kyle Larson took his opportunity to slow down the No. 1, enabling Truex to extend his lead and ultimately win the race. Chastain has eight prior starts at Kansas with two top-10 finishes, his back-to-back seventh-place results there last season, but his number of on-track enemies continues to grow.

Ryan Blaney - Blaney was within sniffing distance of a victory for the second week in a row. Two weeks ago at Talladega he was blocked by Bubba Wallace and lost the lead. On Monday Blaney ran in the fop five all day, finishing third in both stages and the race, and made a move to challenge for the win on the final restart. As has been Blaney's bag, he again missed out on a trip to Victory Lane, though. While pressure and frustration will build the longer his winless streak continues, continued runs like Monday's will open the door to a win sooner rather than later. Looking ahead, Blaney has yet to win at Kansas, but he has amassed seven top-10 finishes from 16 series starts. He led a total of three laps in the two races there last season and finished ninth in the fall race. Blaney and his No. 12 team remain on the cusp of a breakthrough which could come at any time.

Ty Gibbs - True to form, Gibbs is rapidly climbing the learning curve of racing in the NASCAR Cup Series. He entered the Dover race weekend with four top-10 finishes under his belt and proceeded to put his car confidently in the top five Monday afternoon. Within the final stage he crossed his previous best of most laps run inside the top five in any series race. The entire Joe Gibbs Racing organization was fast Monday, and Gibbs did his job as a driver to get what the car would give him. Despite the veteran-like performance, a short fuel load during the final stop left Gibbs in fuel-savings mode causing him a small slip to sixth - his fifth top-10 of the year. It seems like just a matter of time before those top-10 finishes turn into top-fives and win, though. Gibbs crashed out of his only previous series start at Kansas, but he won an Xfinity Series race there in 2021.

DOWNGRADE

Kyle Busch - The elimination of qualifications for Sunday's visit to Dover led to Busch starting on pole position and leading every lap until the competition caution to check tire wear. Unfortunately, Busch ran afoul of the pit road speed limit yet again, putting him at the back of the field despite his early strength. That small mistake and loss of track position was his undoing when the No. 8 was then caught up in an accident. Busch was unable to avoid a stack up ahead of him and damaged his car and turning the afternoon into a salvage operation where he just tried to recover as many points as possible. The safety of two prior wins this season means the damage in the championship isn't heavy, but it made for a very frustrating afternoon for him and the team. Busch has two Kansas wins and finished third in last season's spring race.

Kyle Larson – Contact between Ross Chastain and Brennan Poole sent Poole spinning out of control, collecting Larson and causing heavy damage to the No. 5 machine. It was aggressive racing early in the race that ended up ruing two cars, one of which was among the fastest on track at the time. Larson's team attempted repairs, but the heavy damage limited any chance of getting a top result from the afternoon despite having a car that might have been able to race for the win. Larson, like Busch, has two 2023 wins to fall back on, but the afternoon was a lost opportunity. All the No. 5 team can do is focus forward on a fast recovery and Kansas could be a good opportunity to put Dover's disappointment behind them. Larson has one win at the track from the fall of 2021, and he also finished second there last spring with 29 laps led. Larson has led 291 laps at Kansas in the last four races.

Joey Logano – Many expected Logano to have a good afternoon at Dover. The defending champion won multiple Xfinity Series races at the track, but he hasn't yet made the trip to Victory Lane in the Cup Series. His powerful start to the 2023 season put him in good position to have a shot at the win Monday, but tire issues caused him to fall behind early. Dover is notoriously tough on tires and the weekend of rain amplified that effect. Logano suffered a corded tire that left him falling behind rapidly and ultimately forced him to pit road for a tire change and adjustments. Due to all of his problems Logano found himself five laps down to the leaders early in the final stage. The team's win at Atlanta earlier in the season softened the blow, though. Up next is Kansas where Logano is a three-time winner. His last win at the track came in 2020 while last year's races both ended with 17th-place finishes. 

Kevin Harvick – Harvick was another competitor that ran afoul of tire issues. Like Logano, Harvick suffered a corded tire due to the inability of the tire to handle the punishment Harvick was inflicting on it. The rapid onset of the problem left Harvick plummeting through the field. The team replaced the tire and made adjustments, but the afternoon was already lost. Harvick spent the remainder of the afternoon fighting to return to the lead lap. With less than 50 laps remaining he was still a lap down despite being back inside the top 15. While it wasn't a total disaster, Harvick doesn't have a win to fall back on. The longer he goes without that victory the greater the pressure will become to get one to assure a playoff appearance in his final full-time season. Again like Logano, Harvick is a three-time Kansas winner. He could use a quick turn of fortune, but his best finish there last season was 15th.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Josh Berry – Super-sub Josh Berry drove to the rescue again Monday at Dover. After previously filling in for injured Chase Elliott, grabbing a top finish of second, Berry got the call again this past week when Alex Bowman injured his back in a mid-week sprint car race. Bowman will be out for several weeks, but Berry stepped into the No. 48 with a nearly seamless transition after just recently wrapping up his duties in the No. 9. Berry, growing in confidence and experience with the Hendrick organization and equipment, ran confidently on the lead lap all afternoon at Dover and grabbed a 10th-place finish in his first drive behind the wheel of Bowman's machine. That finish was Berry's second top-10 from just five races in the series this season, and he is making a stern case to be a full-time driver in this series as soon as 2024.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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