NASCAR Barometer: Truex Nails Restart and Wins in Phoenix

NASCAR Barometer: Truex Nails Restart and Wins in Phoenix

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Martin Truex Jr. became the fifth different driver to win in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season in as many races in Sunday's Instacart 500 at Phoenix Raceway. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver started fifth and led 64 laps to join teammate Christopher Bell as a 2021 winner. His Toyota was clearly one of the fastest throughout the race's 312 laps, but he and the team had to be flawless to beat the Penske Racing Fords that started the day at the point. Truex was able to match the pace, and one final restart gave him the opportunity he needed to get out front and not look back. Joey Logano couldn't chase him down in the final 24 laps and settled for second place ahead of Denny Hamlin. Logano's teammate Brad Keselowski finished fourth with fall race winner Chase Elliott coming home fifth.

This week the series heads back east to Atlanta Motor Speedway. The track's rough surface makes for exciting races, and challenges drivers and teams to remain fast throughout a fuel run. This week's race will be the 114th time the series has visited the track, and Kevin Harvick is the defending winner. He led 151 of 325 laps last June to score one of his nine wins last season.

UPGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex won for the first time in 2021 and at Phoenix Raceway Sunday. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was one of the fastest cars all afternoon, but had to battle the Penske

Martin Truex Jr. became the fifth different driver to win in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season in as many races in Sunday's Instacart 500 at Phoenix Raceway. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver started fifth and led 64 laps to join teammate Christopher Bell as a 2021 winner. His Toyota was clearly one of the fastest throughout the race's 312 laps, but he and the team had to be flawless to beat the Penske Racing Fords that started the day at the point. Truex was able to match the pace, and one final restart gave him the opportunity he needed to get out front and not look back. Joey Logano couldn't chase him down in the final 24 laps and settled for second place ahead of Denny Hamlin. Logano's teammate Brad Keselowski finished fourth with fall race winner Chase Elliott coming home fifth.

This week the series heads back east to Atlanta Motor Speedway. The track's rough surface makes for exciting races, and challenges drivers and teams to remain fast throughout a fuel run. This week's race will be the 114th time the series has visited the track, and Kevin Harvick is the defending winner. He led 151 of 325 laps last June to score one of his nine wins last season.

UPGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex won for the first time in 2021 and at Phoenix Raceway Sunday. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was one of the fastest cars all afternoon, but had to battle the Penske Racing teammates to get the job done. It was a back-and-forth battle between those drivers throughout the race, but Truex's break came in the final restart when he was able to make his car work in the outside line to capture the lead. Once out front he never looked back. Truex drove to a comfortable lead, which he held until the finish. Up next is Atlanta, where he has 10 top-10 finishes from 22 career starts. He led 65 laps and finished third at the 1.5-mile oval last season.  

Ryan Blaney – Blaney earned his first stage win of the 2021 season Sunday in Phoenix after holding off teammate Joey Logano in the opening segment. The Penske teammates were quick early, sweeping the top three positions in that stage. Blaney seemed to lose some of his early-race speed as the race wore on, though. As his teammates battled among the leaders at the front, Blaney spent the final laps scratching his way into the top 10. His 10th-place finish is just his second so far this season. It appears as though he and the team have some work to do to get on equal footing with the other Penske Fords. Blaney's best Atlanta finish came last season when he finished fourth and has an average finish of 16.2 from five starts at the track.

Joey Logano – Logano won his first stage of 2021 and his fourth at Phoenix in the second segment of Sunday's race. Logano probably should have a few wins already this season, but things have not turned out in his favor. Sunday might have been another one of those missed opportunities. After making the right adjustments to keep his car at the front throughout the afternoon, his choice of the inside line for the final restart proved to be his downfall. Despite cutting the corner he wasn't able to hold off a charging Truex in the outside line. Still, Logano led the most laps and took home his second runner-up finish of the year. He has one runner-up Atlanta finish and five top-10s from 14 starts, including a 10th-place finish last season when he led 10 laps.

Kyle Larson – Sunday was a roller coaster day for Larson. He started at the back of the field, and then suffered two pit infractions that forced him to work his way from the back to the front all over again. With less than 75 laps to go, Larson was back inside the top five, though, and remarkably finished seventh despite all of the afternoon's drama. The Hendrick Motorsports cars appear to have a slight advantage early in the season, and Larson is figuring out how to use that to his advantage more and more every week. Without Sunday's mistakes he might have had two wins in a row. Instead, he looks to this coming weekend where he has three top-fives from six Atlanta starts. He led 142 laps there in his last race at the track in 2019. 

Brad Keselowski - Keselowski was remarkably upbeat following his fourth-place finish in Phoenix. He said he was happy with the team's performance and that continuing to run like they did on Sunday would soon translate to Victory Lane visits. He's right, too. The Penske Racing Fords have had early speed nearly each race so far this season, but they haven't been able to finish the races with that same pace. That was not the case last week in Phoenix, though. Keselowski led 20 laps from pole, but just didn't have the grip to keep a spot in the top three in the final miles. It was Keselowski's third top-five from the first five races of the season, though. Things aren't bad and Atlanta is up next, a place Keselowski has two past victories.

DOWNGRADE

Alex Bowman – Tight racing early in Sunday's race in Phoenix sent Bowman spinning into the outside wall. He returned to the action after making repairs in the pits but was well outside of the top 20 following the trouble. The hole he had to dig out of proved to just be too big, despite clawing his way back into the top 20 with less than 40 laps remaining. Bowman has picked up just two top-10 finishes so far this season, and scored his best Atlanta finish of 12th just last season. His average finish from five track starts is 21.0. Sunday's race in Phoenix was the second finish outside of the top 15 since back-to-back top-10s in Daytona and Miami. The No. 48 team remains a step behind its teammates.

Kyle Busch – Last weekend's trip to Phoenix was one to forget for Busch. The former champion did not have the pace of his teammates and spent much of the day outside of the top 15. He was forced to make an ill-times stop late in the final stage under green and then got trapped a lap down after a caution came out just after. He was starting o stabilize his spot in the final 50 laps before spinning and bringing out a caution. Busch has two Atlanta victories from 22 career starts and was second in last year's race. He has two top-10 finishes this season, but his most worrying statistic is that he hasn't led any laps in the first five races. At this point fantasy players must be wondering if last season's struggles still remain.

Tyler Reddick – Reddick slapped the wall and brought out the caution deep into the final stage of Sunday's race, which sent him to the pits for repair and left him on the cusp of falling out of the top 30. Contact with the wall didn't come as much of a surprise since he was running very high in the groove, and the high line kept getting dirtier later in the race. He nearly lost control multiple times before finally contacting the barrier. Sunday's finish was the fourth of the season outside of the top 20 in the first five races of the season. His second-place finish in Miami is the lone bright spot in an otherwise frustrating start to the 2021 season. Reddick was 16th in last year's Atlanta race. His best finish there in the Xfinity Series was fifth in 2019.

Cole Custer – While racing around the top 15 with less than 20 laps remaining in the race Custer was hit in the rear by Bubba Wallace. The Stewart Haas Racing driver was turned into the outside wall, causing significant damage to the right front. Custer kept the car under control, which meant no yellow flag was waved. He gingerly made his way to pit road for repairs with a flat tire, which came under green due to the lack of caution. Custer started 31st in Atlanta last season, but worked his way to a 19th-place finish. From three Xfinity Series starts at the track he had one runner-up finish, two top-10s, and one DNF. He has yet to get a top-10 this season, and it doesn't seem like this week will change that trend.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Bubba Wallace – Wallace has shown speed with his new team, but they haven't had a clean race yet this season. The pieces started coming together Sunday in Phoenix, though. Wallace was quick throughout the race distance and was always capable of climbing back inside the top 10 after falling behind. He made confident passes on some of the fastest in the field and was a threat for a top-10 finish. Sunday's 16th-place finish was his best of the season, and with a few more tweaks he could be a contender for regular top-10 finishes. Wallace's best Atlanta finish was last season when he came home 21st, and he heads there this week to continue improving with his new race team. 

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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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