Richmond win checks pair of key boxes for Martin Truex Jr.

If there was a way for Martin Truex Jr. to lose a race on a short track, he had experienced it multiple times over. Be it an untimely caution, a self-inflicted mistake, the second-place driver getting aggressive and moving him out of the way on the final lap or just simply not having a good enough car.

Eighty times Truex had competed on a track under one mile in length in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race and 80 times, for some reason or another, it was some other driver popping champagne in Victory Lane.

As his winless streak on short tracks continued to extend, the questions of why Truex hadn’t yet won increased. Perhaps it had something to do with his driving style, some said, that is better suited for intermediate speedways where he’s won with great frequency. Maybe Truex was simply too nice of a guy others suggested, not willing to be cutthroat on a bullring when the race was on the line, a notion shared by Truex’s good friend Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Whatever the reason, it no longer matters. After numerous closes calls and near misses, Truex changed the narrative Saturday night at Richmond Raceway. He snapped his 0-for-80 short-track drought with an emphatic win in the Toyota Owners 400 that saw Truex fend off Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano over a riveting final 50 laps.

“The short track win, everybody kept asking me when it was going to happen, and tonight we didn’t have the best car,” Truex said. “But, we’ve lost here with the best car a bunch of times, so we just fought, we battled.”

Richmond had been the site of many of Truex’s near misses on a short track. Before Saturday, he had led 100-plus laps in four of the past five races on the Virginia oval — and in two of those races he had held the lead in the final 12 laps. And yet each time that elusive win slipped away.

“To finally get that first win not only on a short track but here at Richmond, at a track where we’ve been so strong the last couple seasons and led so many laps and had some real, real heartbreakers, some that were really tough, some really tough losses,” Truex said. “Sometimes those things are hard to get through, but they make you stronger and make you appreciate the good days.”

And considering Truex’s recent history on short tracks, it was apropos that Logano factored heavily in the outcome.

The last time Truex found himself in contention on short track occurred in the Playoff race last fall at Martinsville Speedway. On that day, Truex and Logano had a fierce battle for the win that culminated with Logano using his front bumper to nudge Truex out of the groove on the final lap, opening enough of hole that Logano drove through to take the victory.

It was a classic bump-and-run maneuver that is commonplace on short tracks. And considering the heighted stakes — whomever won automatically qualified for the championship finale — Logano’s aggressiveness wasn’t lacking justification, though it didn’t make it any easier for Truex to accept.

As events played out Saturday night, a repeat of what transpired six months prior was in the offing as Logano hounded Truex. It certainly crossed the mind of Cole Pearn, Truex’s crew chief, as Logano position his bright yellow No. 22 Ford behind his driver.

“When the 22 got clear and got to our bumper, it was like, ‘Oh, man, here we go,’” Pearn said.

“But we managed to make it through and had a lot better result than the last time that happened.”

There was no contact nor another heartbreaking defeat.

Instead, Truex had his first win on a track under a mile, which also represented another important first: Richmond was his maiden win with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Truex and Pearn joined JGR this past offseason with expectations that they would continue to have the success they enjoyed at their previous team, Furniture Row Racing, where the two had won 17 races together over a four-year stretch and the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.

But eight races into the 2019 season Truex and Pearn were still acclimating to their new team, having led a surprisingly low 14 laps and not appearing anything like the dominant driver-crew chief duo they had been over the four years prior. Compounding the frustration, JGR teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin already had five wins between them and sat 1-2 in the standings heading into Richmond.

Eventually, conventional wisdom suggested Truex would break out. The only question was when and where. So why not then, on a night when Truex checked off an accomplishment that had always alluded him, why not make it a twofer?

Get that win on a short track and also that first win with your new team. Which is precisely what Truex did.