NASCAR Barometer: Truex Dominates Martinsville; Claims Championship Berth

NASCAR Barometer: Truex Dominates Martinsville; Claims Championship Berth

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Denny Hamlin took pole position for Sunday's First Data 500, but it was teammate Martin Truex Jr. who stole the show with a dominating performance. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver swept the stages and the race, logging an incredible 464 laps in the lead en route to becoming the first driver locked into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Two races remain for Truex to make life difficult on the rest of the field and prepare for the winner-take-all battle in Miami. Sunday's win was his seventh of the season and first since going back-to-back in Las Vegas and Richmond at the start of the playoffs.

Two races remain for three more drivers to find their way into the final battle to claim the championship. First up is Texas Motor Speedway where Hamlin was victorious in March. Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and Joey Logano hold the remaining three championship positions in the standings with Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott working to hunt them down. Everything can change with a win, though.

UPGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex qualified well at Martinsville and leveraged the confidence he gained from the first short-track win of his career earlier this season to drive to the front and win the opening stage at Martinsville. His pace throughout the remaining laps never faltered, and he went on to sweep the second stage along with the race win to put his name in the hat

Denny Hamlin took pole position for Sunday's First Data 500, but it was teammate Martin Truex Jr. who stole the show with a dominating performance. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver swept the stages and the race, logging an incredible 464 laps in the lead en route to becoming the first driver locked into the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Two races remain for Truex to make life difficult on the rest of the field and prepare for the winner-take-all battle in Miami. Sunday's win was his seventh of the season and first since going back-to-back in Las Vegas and Richmond at the start of the playoffs.

Two races remain for three more drivers to find their way into the final battle to claim the championship. First up is Texas Motor Speedway where Hamlin was victorious in March. Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and Joey Logano hold the remaining three championship positions in the standings with Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott working to hunt them down. Everything can change with a win, though.

UPGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex qualified well at Martinsville and leveraged the confidence he gained from the first short-track win of his career earlier this season to drive to the front and win the opening stage at Martinsville. His pace throughout the remaining laps never faltered, and he went on to sweep the second stage along with the race win to put his name in the hat for the 2019 championship. It was a dominating performance as he led 464 of the 500 laps, leaving teammate Hamlin and Larson to lead the rest. In 28 career starts at Texas Truex has a best finish of second from 2013 and 2017, and his sights are now set on Homestead preparation. He was 12th at Texas earlier this season, leading 10 laps and has three top-10 finishes in the last five starts.

Kyle Larson – Larson pushed his way forward and narrowly missed out on the second stage win Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. The championship contender raced his way forward throughout the second stage and leveraged that track position to push his way forward for the valuable stage points, which could become pivotal as the remaining spots for the championship finale are decided. He can still lock his way into that final round with a win in the next two races, however. Larson's best Texas finish was second in 2017. He was 39th there earlier this season and has crashed out of three of the last five races at the track. He'll need to stay clean and be mistake-free to pull off the win this weekend.

William Byron – Despite being knocked out of championship contention, Byron is still fighting tooth and nail for his first series victory. He looked like the only car capable of catching Truex at Martinsville Sunday, which stands in stark contrast to his prior races at the track where he had a previous best finish of 22nd. Sunday's runner-up finish was his third finish of sixth or better in the last five races and his fifth top-five of the season. He started on the front row and finished sixth at Texas earlier this year, which means fantasy owners should keep their eyes on him for another top result this week. His average finish at that track is 10.7 from three starts.

Denny Hamlin – Despite a run in with Logano and his inability to match teammate Truex, Hamlin still looks every bit the championship contender. He exclaimed how much he was looking forward to Martinsville following his win two weeks ago, and his effort did not disappoint. He qualified on pole, led 30 laps and ran hard to earn a fourth-place finish that puts him second in the standings behind only Truex. Three spots remain unfilled for the Homestead battle, and Hamlin will be anxious to book his spot early. His win at Texas earlier this season will give him the utmost confidence as he chases his fourth at the track, one that would put him into the championship four.

DOWNGRADE

Chase Elliott – Elliott needed a good result in Martinsville to boost his hopes of making it to the championship finale in Miami, but he was left on pit road with an axle problem leaving him behind the leaders early in the second stage. His team was busy fixing the issue as the rest of the field raced on, which put him significantly behind the leaders and the championship fight. He was classified 36th of the 38 finishers and must post a victory to force his way into the championship finale. He has two good chances to get that done. Elliott was 13th at Texas earlier this season and has an average finish of eighth from seven career starts at the track.

Clint Bowyer – Bowyer suffered a tire failure late in the second stage in Sunday's First Data 500, and then a failed rear track bar ended his afternoon completely. Sunday's DNF earned him his second finish outside of the top 20 in the past five races and third in the last seven. Inconsistency cost this team a chance at the title, which will be an area of focus for 2020. Fortunately, three races remain for Bowyer to collect some more top finishes. In 27 starts, Bowyer has four top-five Texas finishes and 12 top-10s. He has been second at Texas twice — this past spring and in 2011. He started 25th in his most recent runner-up performance there and should have some confidence heading into the weekend despite Martinsville's trouble.

Jimmie Johnson – Johnson's past Martinsville wins and recent consistency made him an attractive option for fantasy rosters last week, but a crash forced him out of the race and into a last-place finish. The 38th-place result is his second in the last three races and sixth finish of 30th or worse this season. It has been lean times in the No. 48 garage, and frustration continues to build as the other Hendrick Motorsports teammates separate themselves from the once dominant veteran. Johnson has seven Texas wins and started on pole there earlier this season, though. He led 60 laps and finished fifth in that race, which was one of his three top-five finishes this season. A good practice and qualifying could set the stage for a quick turnaround.

Aric Almirola – Almirola was one of cars that triggered the wreck that took out Johnson, ending both of their afternoons with heavy damage to their cars. Hard racing for seventh position with Kyle Busch triggered the crash, and Almirola was the one who came off worse. He warned Busch following the incident that he would make the final three races of the season difficult, which could put Busch in an uncomfortable position as he battles for the championship. Almirola's 37th-place result was just his third this season outside of the top 30. He drove from 21st to seventh at Texas earlier this season, though. He has three top-10s at the track and an average finish of 19.1 from 17 career tries.

Joey Logano – Logano may have had a top-five going for himself before Denny Hamlin ran him into the wall causing a cut tire and fender damage. The Penske Racing driver now clings to the fourth and final spot in the championship standings but the lost points on Sunday could prove pivotal if he fails to win one of the next two races. He finished eighth when all was said and done, limiting the damage, and had no kind words for Hamlin following the race when the pair clashed on pit road. Logano must refocus an aim to win at Texas and Phoenix. He has one prior Texas win from 2014 and finished 17th after starting eighth earlier this season.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Darrell Wallace Jr. – Bubba has not had the most inspiring season as he battles the best in the sport with an uncompetitive car and one of the smaller teams. Still, from time to time he shows what he is capable of, pulling his team home to a finish much higher than expectations. Sunday's race in Martinsville was one of those times. His 13th-place finish was his first top-15 finish since Richmond last month and his second since his third-place run at the Brickyard. Fantasy owners shouldn't expect a repeat of that again this week at Texas, though. Wallace has shown the ability to outperform on tracks where equipment tends to be more equal, like the short tracks and superspeedways. At Texas in March he finished 23rd after starting 10th.

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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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