Martin Truex Jr. Rock-Steady on Path to Victory in Sunday's NASCAR Cup Race at Sonoma
The driver of the No 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry was stout down the stretch as he defeated Kyle Busch to score his second win of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season.
After a 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season that saw Martin Truex Jr. end the year winless, and without a Playoff berth, many questioned if Truex was down and out. The driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry may have been down, but he is showing so far in 2023 that he was far from out.
Truex put in a dominant effort in the second half of Sunday's Toyota / Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, as he recorded 33 of his 51 laps led on the day after the race's mid-way mark.
A caution with under 20 laps to go put a certain Truex victory in question, as Chase Elliott opted to try to steal the race win away with strategy, while Truex and the other dominant cars of the race pitted for fresh tires. It only took Truex about four laps to claw back to the race lead.
Once he got back to the lead, Truex set sail and he led the final 14 laps of the race. Truex would go on to win the race by nearly three seconds over Richard Childress Racing's Kyle Busch.
Truex has always had an affinity for rising to the occasion at road course races in the NASCAR Cup Series, but when Truex and the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team struggled in this race a year ago and failed to muster a top-25 finish, it caused Truex, JGR and Toyota to look at ways to improve their road course product.
"A lot of hard work by everybody. Everybody at Toyota, TRD, everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing in the offseason to kind of redesign -- we got to work with NASCAR to redesign some stuff, everybody did, and they did a great job there," Truex said of the work that his team and Toyota did in the offseason to regain competitiveness at road courses. "Just hats off to my team. James, Jazzie, all the guys. To be so bad here last year and to come back and do that with the same car basically is really unbelievable."
Busch was able to utilize pit strategy and a perfectly timed caution prior to the end of Stage 2 to not only score the Stage Win in Stage 2, but to also be the constant threat to Truex's win the remainder of the race. Busch walked away from the race happy about his day.
"Yeah, not too bad, obviously. Just wish we had a little bit more," Busch said of his run. "I tried really hard there at the end to at least keep Martin honest. I felt like I could beat him a little bit on a lap, and then I would mess up and he would beat me by a little more on the next lap, so, we were just trading a little bit there. Then he was able to pull away late."
Sunday's runner-up finish marked the fifth top-five effort of the season for Busch, who is in his first season behind the wheel of the No. 8 Chevrolet Camaro for Richard Childress Racing.
Joey Logano finished the race respectably in third-place and he was followed by Chris Buescher and Chase Elliott, who came home fifth.
Elliott, who was making his return after a one-race suspension, left the day optimistic about a much-needed solid finish.
"For sure, nice to get a top-five. No doubt," Elliott said after climbing from his No. 9 car. "Was proud of that. We were trying to do something a little differently with strategy. and we had pit about six or eight laps before that caution and just felt like our only play was to stay out. I was really hoping that more people would do that with us, where you would have three or four rows. It probably still wouldn't have been enough, but I do think it would have been nicer to have a couple more rows of a buffer before the tires got to us."
AJ Allmendinger, Michael McDowell, Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, and Ross Chastain rounded out the top-10 finishers in Sunday's race.
Denny Hamlin started the race from the pole in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry, and he led the opening 32 laps of the race, and scored the Stage 1 win in the process. It looked like it was going to be a geat day for Hamlin. However, it all came undone on Lap 92, when Hamlin made contact with the inside wall in Turn 11, which washed him out into the outside wall on the frontstretch. Hamlin would break the toe link on his car in the incident and he would crash out of the event.
The driver, who started from the pole, and ran so well early in the race, would be the lone driver to not make it to the finish of the race, and would be credited with a 36th-place finish.
The NASCAR Cup Series enters the only off-week of the 2023 season next week. The NASCAR Cup Series will be back in action at Nashville Superspeedway for the Ally 400 on Sunday, June 25th. That race will be televised on NBC, and the race broadcast will begin at 7:00 PM ET. PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the radio broadcast of that event.
Photo Credit: Gavin Baker, LAT Images, Courtesy of Toyota Racing