Truex Jr. gets breakthrough short-track win at Richmond

RICHMOND, VA - APRIL 13: Martin Truex Jr, driver of the #19 Auto Owners Insurance Toyota, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on April 13, 2019 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images)

Reid Spencer – NASCAR Wire Service


RICHMOND, VA – APRIL 13: Martin Truex Jr, driver of the #19 Auto Owners Insurance Toyota, does a burnout after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on April 13, 2019 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

RICHMOND, Va. – Saturday night’s victory in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway was a first for Martin Truex Jr.—and more of the same for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Truex won his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race on a short track in his 81st try and in the process picked up his first victory with Joe Gibbs Racing since moving from now-defunct Furniture Row Racing between seasons.

At the same time, Truex gave JGR its third straight victory in NASCAR’s top series and sixth in nine races this season. Joey Logano finished .178 seconds behind the race winner, as Gibbs and Team Penske maintained their stranglehold on the premier division. Penske drivers Logano and Brad Keselowski triumphed in the three races JGR hasn’t won.

“It means a lot to break through, especially here at Richmond,” said Truex, who won for the first time this season and the 20th time in his career. “I’ve always really enjoyed this track. I’ve always loved coming here. The short track win – everybody kept asking me when it was going to happen.

“I was struggling the last 40 laps. I had no front tire and got real tight that last run. I just had to hold them off. Thanks to the pit crew—they had a great night. I’m just really happy to get our first win with Gibbs. First short-track win is pretty awesome, too.

“Tonight, we didn’t have the best car, but we’ve lost here with the best car a bunch of times. We just fought and battled. Being out front was just the key.”

Logano got past third-place finisher Clint Bowyer in the closing laps and got a strong run off Turn 2 on the final circuit, but Logano couldn’t find a way around Truex through the last two corners. To his credit, the reigning series champion kept it clean, opting not to move Truex as he had done on the final lap in last year’s Playoff race at Martinsville.

“I figured something out there toward the end with about 10 laps to go to make ups some speed,” Logano said. “I got a decent run off of (Turn) 2 the last lap… I though I could maybe get to the outside and then roll momentum—I don’t know.

“I couldn’t roll the bottom and get enough drive off of (Turn) 4 either way. My only move was to go up. I slid up and I got tight and couldn’t turn underneath him. Fun race, but, gosh, two weeks in a row I felt like we had a car that could win the race, and we haven’t won.

“That’s a little frustrating, but when you’re frustrated with second, that’s a good sign about where your team’s at.”

Two seconds behind Truex with 40 laps left, Bowyer quickly closed the deficit and made a move to the inside of Truex’s No. 19 Toyota with 17 laps to go, but Truex protected the outside and kept enough momentum to keep Bowyer behind him.

With fewer than 10 laps left, Bowyer brushed the wall and surrendered the second position when Logano got to his outside off Turn 4.

“It’s frustrating,” said Bowyer, who scored his fourth straight top-10 result. You get out there, and I ran him (Truex) down. I was faster on a long run than him, but by the time you get to him, your stuff is pretty wore out. And with this aero package, you are so aero dependent behind those cars that you get terrible tight.

“When I got behind him, I knew that wasn’t the place to be, so I changed that. I lost. It sucks. Then the 22 (Logano) got to my outside. I knew better than to let him out there, but I felt like when I was running high that I was probably losing ground to him. In hopes of still trying to win the race, I needed to stay on the bottom and hope that he slipped up in traffic or something. Next thing you know I lost my nose down there, and the 22 got to the outside.”

Pole winner Kevin Harvick ran fourth, followed by Denny Hamlin and Austin Dillon. Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman and Paul Menard completed the top 10. Busch posted his ninth straight top 10 to start the season.

Busch led 101 laps—second only to Truex’s 186—but a speeding penalty under caution on Lap 131 after Kyle Larson’s hard crash into the Turn 1 wall knocked Busch back to 26th, and he was unable to work his way back to the front.

Cole Custer picks up convincing NASCAR Xfinity 

victory at Richmond

RICHMOND, VA – APRIL 12: Cole Custer, driver of the #00 Haas Automation Ford, poses with the Dash 4 Cash check after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway on April 12, 2019 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Donald Page/Getty Images)

RICHMOND, Va. – Cole Custer said on Friday afternoon that his No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing NASCAR Xfinity Series team might be ready to peak in time for the Playoffs.

Clearly, Custer is ahead of schedule, after a convincing victory in Friday night’s ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway.

After losing the lead to Austin Cindric on a restart with 26 laps left, Custer regained the top spot on Lap 231 of 250 and pulled away for his second victory of the season. In a race that dodged a persistent threat of rain, Custer crossed the finish line 2.639 seconds ahead of Cindric.

Not only did Custer win for the fourth time in his career—and for the first time on a short track—but he also claimed the $100,000 Xfinity Dash 4 Cash bonus that goes to the highest finisher of four eligible contenders.

RICHMOND, VA – APRIL 12: Cole Custer, driver of the #00 Haas Automation Ford, leads Justin Allgaier, driver of the #7 Brandt Professional Agriculture Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Xfinity Series ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway on April 12, 2019 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“We had a great car,” Custer said. “(Crew chief Mike Shiplett) made great adjustments as it went… This one mean s a lot. We hadn’t had a short-track win yet. We’ve struggled a lot at short tracks, but this help.

“A lot of my friends give me crap for being bad at this place, but I finally won, so I’ve got a little bit of bragging rights there, so that’s night. I’m just so happy. Two wins—that’s pretty awesome.”

Custer also served notice that he expects the team to get even better as the season progresses.

“I think we’re in a great place,” Custer said. “We’re going to get better and better. I think we’ve started to figure out our cars later in the race, and I think the second time we go back (to the same tracks), we’re going to be even better—just me and Mike working together at these tracks for the first time.

“We’re just going to be a team that gets better and better as the year goes on.”

RICHMOND, VA – APRIL 13: Martin Truex Jr, driver of the #19 Auto Owners Insurance Toyota, poses with the winners sticker after the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway on April 13, 2019 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Custer led three times for a race-high 122 laps. Third-place finisher Justin Allgaier led 86 and won the first stage but had to charge to the front after contrarian pit strategy left him 16th for a Lap 161 restart.

Allgaier was second by the time caution slowed the race for the sixth time on Lap 211, but he spun his tires on the subsequent restart on Lap 219 and fell back to fifth before recovering to third at the finish.

“The pit call we made at the end of the (second) stage there, it worked out, obviously, in our favor,” said Allgaier, who had crasjed out of last week’s Bristol race after leading 138 laps. “But I pushed really hard to get back up to the front, and I just didn’t quite have enough there at the end to really do anything.

“I made a mistake on that restart. It really burns me up that I made the mistake, but all in all, a great day. I hope we got the monkey off our back.”

Cindric was hoping rain would halt the race when he was in the lead, but that didn’t happen. He did, however, qualify for the Dash 4 Cash two weeks hence at Talladega, where his sponsor, MoneyLion, also holds the entitlement for the race.

“Congrats to Cole and those guys,” Cindirc said. “I tried my best on that restart to hold him off, but they were obviously the class of the field. Him and the 7 (Allgaier). We had some fun and got some points and now we will move on to Talladega for the MoneyLion 300.

“That will be a big one for me. I would love to win that race and the Dash for Cash at Talladega.”

Tyler Reddick came home fourth, followed by Ryan Sieg, who has finished no worse than 12th in the first eight races of the season. Zane Smith, John Hunter Nemechek, Chase Briscoe, Riley Herbst and Justin Haley completed the top 10.

Making the first of two planned starts this season, Elliott Sadler ran 12th in an emotional return to his home track.

Christopher Bell already planning strategy for Homestead

Christopher Bell entered last year’s NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway as a clear favorite.

After all, Bell had dominated the series with seven victories before the finale. But Homestead turned out to be the most frustrating race of the year for Bell, who rolled home in 11th place and finished fourth in the final standings.

Tyler Reddick, on the other hand, found a home near the wall and parlayed his ability to run the top lane into a series title.

Bell has been thinking about the final race ever since. And based on the likely assumption he’ll be one of the four qualifiers at Homestead, Bell’s approach will change when he gets there.

“We definitely took the conservative approach of ‘Do not run the wall, do not run the wall, do not run the wall,’” Bell said Friday at Richmond Raceway. “I think Cole Custer proved the last couple years that he got his car good enough to where he didn’t have to run the wall. (Kyle) Larson, I think Larson ran the year that Cole won, and his car wasn’t very good so he couldn’t run the wall.

“And so everyone was like, ‘Oh, you can run the middle, you can run the middle, you can run the middle.’ Well, Reddick proved it again last year that the wall is the fastest place to be at Homestead. I think I’m just going to go up there and run the wall.”


Stewart-Haas, Clint Bowyer announce Toco partnership

Stewart-Haas Racing has landed a new partner, Toco Warranty, for four races as primary sponsor of Clint Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford, the organization announced in a Friday morning press conference at Richmond Raceway.

In addition, Toco, a new generation of vehicle service contracts with pay-as-you-go plans, will serve as an associate sponsor for the rest of Bowyer’s races, as well as supporting the efforts of Tony Stewart Racing and driver Donny Schatz and SHR co-owner Tony Stewart in winged sprint cars.

“We’ve always had partners that have been a part of our NASCAR program or part of our grassroots program with the World of Outlaws or our All-Star Circuit of Champions,” Stewart said. “But this is one of the first times that we’ve had a partner that spans all the way across and utilizes these two organizations to get the coverage to the right people.”

Goodyear unveils Charlotte sidewall 

honoring fallen heroes

On Saturday afternoon outside the Richmond Raceway media center, Stu Grant, Goodyear’s general manager of worldwide racing, unveiled a special sidewall all Goodyear tires will display for the Charlotte races on Memorial Day weekend.

This is the 10th year Goodyear will replace its familiar “Eagle” branding with an inscription honoring the United States military and fallen heroes. This year’s tires will display the lettering “Honor and Remember,” a national Virginia-based organization whose mission is to “perpetually recognize the sacrifice of America’s military fallen service members and their families.”

“Goodyear and the military have always had a strong association,” Grant said. “We supply ground tires for a lot of military vehicles. We supply aircraft tires to a lot of military aircraft around the world. We’ve got programs to supply this kind of consumer tires to military bases around the world, and we’ve got a corporate initiative to hire veterans.

“Supporting the military is one thing, but what we want to do is also to support the fallen. That’s why we’re partnering up with Honor and Remember. They’re a terrific organization. They recognize the fallen, but in addition, they recognize the families of the fallen with a positive message.”


Short strokes

Honorary pace car driver Ronde Barber, a Pro Bowl defensive back with the Tampa Bay Bucs, said Friday at Richmond Raceway his identical twin brother and Giants running back could beat him in a foot race. “Back in the day, Tiki was always a little bit faster than me,” Ronde said. “He’s turned into a marathoner. He’s like Jimmie (Johnson). He runs the New York Marathon. I think he’s going to Paris to run a marathon. So I don’t think that I can outrun him. However, he drives around New York with a bunch of big SUV’s or whatever. I have the sports cars at my house. So I think I’m the better driver.”