NASCAR Barometer: Truex Goes Back-to-Back in Round of 16

NASCAR Barometer: Truex Goes Back-to-Back in Round of 16

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Amazingly, Martin Truex Jr. had never won a short-track race until this season. He had also never won back-to-back races. On Saturday he doubled his short-track wins by sweeping races at Richmond Raceway and picked up his first back-to-back victories in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series. Even better for him is that his Las Vegas and Richmond wins were the first two races in the round 16 in the playoffs. He's holding his competitors at bay as he performs at the highest level with his sights set firmly on claiming his second series championship in Miami.

Truex started Saturday night's race from eighth and immediately raced his way to the front to claim the first stage win of the night. He lost ground on pit road to start the second stage but was never out of contention as he perfected his machine to make it the fastest on the track in the final miles. The win is icing on the cake in the round of 16 and, more importantly, withholds valuable points and momentum from the other playoff contenders.

This week the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course will decide the drivers who will make up the round of 12 that kicks off in two weeks at Dover International Speedway. Truex might have been last year's Charlotte winner were it not for contact in the final chicane with an optimistic Jimmie Johnson. Instead, it was Ryan Blaney who was left to pick up the pieces and claim the inaugural

Amazingly, Martin Truex Jr. had never won a short-track race until this season. He had also never won back-to-back races. On Saturday he doubled his short-track wins by sweeping races at Richmond Raceway and picked up his first back-to-back victories in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series. Even better for him is that his Las Vegas and Richmond wins were the first two races in the round 16 in the playoffs. He's holding his competitors at bay as he performs at the highest level with his sights set firmly on claiming his second series championship in Miami.

Truex started Saturday night's race from eighth and immediately raced his way to the front to claim the first stage win of the night. He lost ground on pit road to start the second stage but was never out of contention as he perfected his machine to make it the fastest on the track in the final miles. The win is icing on the cake in the round of 16 and, more importantly, withholds valuable points and momentum from the other playoff contenders.

This week the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course will decide the drivers who will make up the round of 12 that kicks off in two weeks at Dover International Speedway. Truex might have been last year's Charlotte winner were it not for contact in the final chicane with an optimistic Jimmie Johnson. Instead, it was Ryan Blaney who was left to pick up the pieces and claim the inaugural victory at the track. Another this week would see him safely through to the next round of playoff eliminations.

UPGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – After winning the week prior, Truex picked up right at the front again Saturday night. He tracked down Brad Keselowski in the first segment and drove away to a comfortable stage 1 victory. He then survived a spin after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. locked a front wheel and slid into him. Despite that, his car was so strong that he chased down teammate Kyle Busch to make a pass under green for the win to sweep both races at Richmond this season and achieve his first back-to-back wins. Truex led five laps and finished 14th last year on the Charlotte road course. He's already won on a road course this season at Sonoma and arguably has unfinished business after the last-lap contact with Jimmie Johnson last year.

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski had the perfect lap in qualifying on Friday, which enabled him to start from pole and lead the opening portion of Saturday night's race. His Penske Racing machine didn't have the race pace to match the Gibbs cars throughout the race, especially on the long runs. While Keselowski did well to finish as the "best of the rest," the team will be searching for the changes they need to make to be able to challenge the JGR cars. Erik Jones' postrace inspection failure boosted Keselowski to fourth, which also puts him fourth in the championship standings. Keselowski is a stout road course driver and led 29 laps on the Charlotte road course last season before crashing out of the race.

Kyle Busch – Fast work on pit road gave Busch the lead at the start of the second stage, which he then went on to dominate. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver held off multiple challenges from Truex and was able to win his 11th stage of the season. The tide changed as the race wore on, though, and Busch couldn't match his teammate's pace. The pair went on to finish first and second in the Joe Gibbs Racing sweep of the top four positions on track. Busch crashed out of the road course race last season but remains one of the better drivers in the series when the schedule has visits to these types of tracks. One more week of losing to his teammates will only increase his determination to win again.

Ryan Newman – Once again Newman rose to the occasion and advanced his cause in the playoffs. The Roush Fenway Racing driver had a top-five car all night in Richmond, and he used that to his advantage to run in those top spots throughout the 400-lap distance. His top-five finish pushed him to ninth in the standings and 14 points ahead of the 13th position. While his chances of advancing to the round of 12 look promising, he will still need a good result this week with no mistakes. Newman started 29th but finished 11th in an impressive climb through the field last season at the Charlotte road course. Stage points and a secure top-10 finish would see him through to the next round.

DOWNGRADE

Erik Jones – After racing hard to finish fourth on track, Jones ability to advance in the playoffs took another serious blow. The car failed postrace inspection and bumped him to last in the official race results. That is two consecutive weeks where Jones struggled and now absolutely must win the road course race at Charlotte to stay alive in the championship battle. The 41-point swing is a brutal blow and leaves him languishing in 16th position in standings, 45 points adrift from safety. Jones secured his sole 2019 win at Darlington just prior to the playoffs but hasn't finished better than 36th since. He finished 30th at the Charlotte course last season and needs a small miracle this week.

Alex Bowman – Pressure mounted on Bowman early in the second stage. While fighting to stay in position to get back on the lead lap, he aggressively raced Austin Dillon and the pair collided. Dillon returned the favor one corner later, and Bowman spun and suffered damage to his car. The mistake put him out of position to fight for that lead-lap transfer spot, and he fell further outside of the top 20. That gives him a hole to climb out of this week. Bowman started third and finished fourth at Charlotte last fall and will need at least another performance like that to keep his hopes alive in the playoffs after falling out of the top 12 last weekend.

Kurt Busch – Busch did not have the race he was hoping for Saturday night in Richmond and now is in a must-win situation to keep his championship fight alive. He was caught speeding on entry to pit road and forced to start at the rear of the field Saturday night, which left him with a big hole from which to dig out. With less than 100 laps remaining, he was still stuck outside of the top 15 and only clawed his way back to 18th by the race finish. After the crash he had in Las Vegas he needed a top finish, which wasn't in the cards Saturday night. It isn't over yet, though. Busch is one of the best on road courses and he started on pole at Charlotte's version last season.

William Byron – Byron struggled throughout Saturday night's 400 laps at Richmond. His qualifying went poorly and left him with a 25th-place start from which he floundered. Most of the night was spent battling to stay on the lead lap, hoping that circumstances would give him an opportunity to climb forward in the field. However, by the end, he was four laps down and never held the pace that would have helped him force his way further forward than the 24th-place finish with which he was credited. He sits in the final transfer position in the playoffs with the cut-off race looming this week. Just two points separate him from teammate Bowman, who also struggled, and both will have to have a near perfect afternoon in Charlotte this week.

Clint Bowyer – Despite his eighth-place finish at Richmond Saturday night, Bowyer still finds himself in trouble when it comes to advancing to the round of 12 following this week's race on the Charlotte road course. Bowyer grabbed a top-five start and raced respectably throughout the night to come home with a top-10 finish, but he needed more to gain some security ahead of next week's finale to the round of 16. He started seventh and finished third at the road course last season and has won on the road courses before. He might have optimism in advancing to the round of 12 but certainly needs a mistake-free afternoon in Charlotte as he sits 14th in the standings.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Joey Logano – Logano survived the Richmond race weekend by the skin of his teeth. His car was nowhere it needed to be to get him a top finish. His qualifying effort only earned him a 28th-place start and he was unable to work his way forward through the field most of the night. He languished deep in the field only until the final miles of the final stage when he began to make progress and clawed his way to 11th to salvage a decent result despite the struggle. Logano is sixth in the standings after Richmond and seems to be behind the JGR Toyotas despite holding an early-season advantage. Races are winding down and answers must be found to increase competitiveness.

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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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