NASCAR Barometer: Truex Scores First Career Short-Track Win

NASCAR Barometer: Truex Scores First Career Short-Track Win

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Martin Truex Jr. held off Joey Logano to break his run of leading the most short-track laps without a win in Saturday's Toyota Owners 400. Once again, he led the most laps throughout the race but finally closed the deal by holding off Logano on the final laps as the Penske Racing driver closed in on his rear bumper. The race was characterized by no fewer than eight inspection penalties that resulted in drivers losing their qualifying spots, forcing those teams to start from the rear. Truex was not one of those drivers, and he leveraged his top-five start and avoided mistakes in the race to earn that elusive win.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series now takes a week off before loading the trucks back up and heading to Talladega Superspeedway for the first superspeedway race under the new aerodynamic rules package. Talladega will be somewhat of an unknown, but then again, Talladega has always been an unpredictable race. Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske continue to be the two teams everyone else in the garage is trying to catch, and most will welcome this week to go to work to close the gap. Logano and Aric Almirola were the two victors there in 2018.

UPGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – After holding the distinction of leading the most short-track laps without a win, Truex finally finished the job and grabbed his first career short-track victory Saturday night at Richmond Raceway. Truex initially came to the front in the second stage

Martin Truex Jr. held off Joey Logano to break his run of leading the most short-track laps without a win in Saturday's Toyota Owners 400. Once again, he led the most laps throughout the race but finally closed the deal by holding off Logano on the final laps as the Penske Racing driver closed in on his rear bumper. The race was characterized by no fewer than eight inspection penalties that resulted in drivers losing their qualifying spots, forcing those teams to start from the rear. Truex was not one of those drivers, and he leveraged his top-five start and avoided mistakes in the race to earn that elusive win.

The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series now takes a week off before loading the trucks back up and heading to Talladega Superspeedway for the first superspeedway race under the new aerodynamic rules package. Talladega will be somewhat of an unknown, but then again, Talladega has always been an unpredictable race. Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske continue to be the two teams everyone else in the garage is trying to catch, and most will welcome this week to go to work to close the gap. Logano and Aric Almirola were the two victors there in 2018.

UPGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – After holding the distinction of leading the most short-track laps without a win, Truex finally finished the job and grabbed his first career short-track victory Saturday night at Richmond Raceway. Truex initially came to the front in the second stage but couldn't hold off Logano for the segment win as Truex lost grip in his rear tires in the final laps. He and the team continued working on the car to make it better for the final stage, and that work paid off. He led 186 of the 400 laps and tallied his first win with Joe Gibbs Racing, joining teammates Busch and Denny Hamlin among the 2019 victors. Saturday night will give them valuable momentum and less pressure visiting Talladega in two weeks.

Kyle Busch – Not much looks likely to slow Busch this season aside from Busch himself. He won the opening stage Saturday night in Richmond for his fifth stage victory of the season after winning his third race of the season a week prior in Bristol. A speeding penalty in the second stage forced him to have a bit more difficult evening than expected, however. After losing track position from that mistake, he struggled to work his way back through to the lead and ultimately settled for a top-10 finish, his ninth of the season so far. Busch has one Talladega victory from 2008 and struggled there last year. He does have two top-fives in the last six starts there.

Joey Logano – Logano was just about the only car capable of racing Kyle Busch early Saturday night at Richmond. When Busch fell out of the lead due to his penalty, it left Logano to battle Truex for the second stage win. Logano caught and passed Truex with just a handful of laps remaining in that segment and then led the field to green for the final run to the checkered flag. He couldn't do the same in the final stage, though, and finished runner-up to Truex for his fifth top-five finish of the season. The Penske Racing driver has three Talladega wins, including this race last season, and remains one of the most consistent top drivers for fantasy owners this season.

Paul Menard – What started in Bristol as an indication that Menard might be turning the corner with Wood Brothers Racing continued in Richmond and now it looks like things are working in the new partnership. Richmond's 10th-place finish was Menard's second top-10 this season and his second in consecutive weeks. The success comes at the perfect time since both driver and team are known to have what it takes to race up front at the superspeedways. Menard has three top-fives and seven top-10s from 25 Talladega starts. He finished ninth there last fall after starting 30th and is in prime form to grab another top finish as he and the team continue to develop their relationship and get the most out of each other.

Ryan Newman – Newman grabbed his second top-10 finish in a row Saturday in Richmond, duplicating his ninth-place finish from Bristol one week prior. Saturday's finish meant Newman finished 11th or better in each of his last three races heading to this week's break. With three other top-15 finishes from the rest of the races this season, it looks like Newman is taking the No. 6 car further forward than it had been in past seasons. Roush Fenway Racing has dealt with a significant lack of competitiveness the past few years but may have found in Newman the driver who can rebuild their legacy. With 16 top-10s from 34 career Talladega starts and RFR's ability to deliver on superspeedways, the team could be in store for yet another top 10 in two weeks, which could make them serious playoff contenders.

DOWNGRADE

Kyle Larson – Larson's 2019 woes continued in Richmond, as contact with Ryan Preece early in the second stage meant an unscheduled trip to pit road to fix a tire rub before it became a failure. Unfortunately, that issue wasn't fixed, and he crashed shortly after returning to the track. Larson's winless streak stretches more than a year, and 2019 has only started with a best finish of sixth so far. He only has two top-10s from the first nine races of the season and needs to undertake a deep assessment this off week to fix what has been holding them back. Larson has just two Talladega top-10s from 10 career starts. His average finish at the track is just 20.3.

Erik Jones – Once again Jones finds himself in the downgrade section. He qualified on the front row for Saturday's Richmond race, but failed inspection and started the actual race from 35th instead. He and the team dug deep and worked hard to climb their way into the top 10 for the final segment, but then had a long pit stop to add a wheel spacer, losing everything they had gained. Jones tumbled back outside of the top 15 and was only able to work his way back to 14th by the finish. Mistakes cost the team dearly, and it wasn't the first time it's happened this season either. They will need to focus on simply getting a mistake-free top-10 finish in coming weeks to build momentum and confidence.

Ryan Blaney – Blaney could be the best driver not to have won yet this season, and that streak continued again in Richmond. He will now have to wait through the off week and faces daunting Talladega as he looks to get to Victory Lane as soon as possible. Despite four top-fives so far this season, Blaney expects more and may even be heading backward. His 25th-place finish Saturday night at Richmond was his second finish outside of the top 20 in the last three races. His other rough patch started with the Daytona 500 when he had three consecutive finishes worse than 20th, but he then rattled off four top-fives from the next five races. There is no doubt Blaney has the speed and equipment to win. They just need to check all the right boxes to get it done.

Daniel Suarez – Suarez should have been in store for a good week at Richmond, but it all started to unravel early. Initial indications showed he could be gunning for a top-10 finish after qualifying ninth, but inspection violations put him at the rear of the field for the start, which began a long night for the Stewart-Haas Racing driver. He and the team worked to overcome the setback, but that fell apart after a pit road speeding infraction resulted in a drive-through penalty. When all was said and done, Suarez came home 18th, scoring back-to-back worst finishes at the track that used to be one of his better venues. Suarez has one top-10 and four top-20s from four career Cup starts at Talladega.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Chris Buescher – Fantasy players will know we expected Buescher to have a good outing in Richmond, but his actual performance started off even better than expected. The JTG Daugherty Racing driver qualified inside the top 10 after a strong showing on Friday and then raced inside the top 10 for the entire first stage. He continued that pace up until he started to lose position in the final stage. At times during races this season, the team has shown that they can compete among the top teams and now need to make adjustments to translate that pace into a full race distance. Buescher's best Talladega finish was 11th in last year's spring race, and this is another track where the former Xfinity Series champion could make himself at home among the top runners.

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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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