NCS: Truex Dominates New Hampshire, Reclaims Points Lead Featured
“Lobster rolls for everybody.”
Those were the words to the assembled media in New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s media center from a smiling Martin Truex Jr after he led 254 of 301 laps to win for the first time at the Magic Mile (22 pound lobster included). Truex was in control all afternoon, and it culminated in his first NASCAR Cup Series win at a track where he has many treasured memories with his family.
“I think it’s no secret that I’ve been after this one for a long time,” Truex said post race. “It’s always been one that I wanted so bad, and maybe I think too bad at times. But it was well worth the wait to be able to do it here today finally, take home the lobster and put another win at Loudon with the name Truex on it. Very special.”
“It’s crazy to think that was 23 years ago, what has been between then and now, and to be right here again at this track with just a huge accomplishing day, with a great performance from my team just brings back a lot of memories of what this place means to me and to my career.”
Teammate Christopher Bell started on the pole, but Truex was the one who took control early. He passed Bell for the lead on lap 2 of the race, and extended his lead until the caution came out for an AJ Allmendinger spin on lap 29. What followed was a sequence that repeated itself throughout the afternoon– Truex leading, a caution flag, a pit stop, and multiple cars staying out or taking two tires on pit road. But each time, it was Truex’s no. 19 Camry that found its way to the front within a few laps of the restart.
Truex won Stage 1, which ended as both Kyle Busch and Corey LaJoie pounded the outside wall in turn 4. Busch and his RCR team retired the car immediately as the damage was too severe, but LaJoie’s crew fixed his Camaro enough to meet minimum speed and go to the garage to repair the car. LaJoie eventually rejoined the race 124 laps down and finished the event.
Stage 2 went green long enough to include a green flag pit stop, which Truex and his team deftly navigated. The only car that was consistent enough to stay within shouting distance of Truex was the no. 10 of Aric Almirola, who won this race 2 years ago. Even Almirola was unable to cut into Truex’s lead– he simply lost ground at a slower rate than the rest of the field. With 23 laps remaining in the stage, everything changed for Almirola.
Erik Jones spun out to bring the long green flag run to a close, and because most teams had run a good amount of laps on their tires, a majority of the field pitted. Almirola’s crew called in a bold strategy decision and only took right side tires on the stop– and beat Truex off of pit road to claim the lead.
Almirola reported that the car felt weird as he pulled onto the track, but he warmed and scuffed his tires as normal as he prepared to lead the field back to green, a stage win and control of the race within reach. He radioed his team to confirm that all the tires were tightened, to which the team responded that they were.
All four tires were not tightened.
On the restart, Almirola led into turn one before the lug nut to the right rear let go, and the 3-time Cup Series winner careened into the outside wall. The car sustained heavy damage; Almirola was out of the race. Perhaps his most promising chance at winning his way into the playoffs, gone.
“It’s just so frustrating, so disappointing,” Almirola said to reporters following his mandatory trip to the infield care center. “Our race team is working so hard and we know that these races are ones we’ve got to capitalize on. We came here knowing that this was an opportunity for us and we just didn’t capitalize.”
With Almirola out of the race, Truex’s best challenger was no longer a threat. He reclaimed the lead from Kyle Larson and won Stage 2, setting up for another long green flag run to begin Stage 3.
As Stage 3 went underway, Ryan Blaney gave Truex a hard challenge, and came close to wrestling the lead away from the 2017 champion. Blaney was running a much higher line than Truex and ran him down. Truex had to adjust his own line to fend him off.
“Blaney was really fast,” Truex said postrace. “He put some pressure on running that really high groove, and then I got up there and kind of got that going, figured it out, and then was able to slightly pull away from him.”
Stage 3 also included a green-flag pit cycle, and Truex was able to gain on Blaney despite Blaney undercutting him by a lap. From there, it looked like it would be smooth sailing to the finish for the 19. It wasn’t.
Multiple drivers ran the pit cycle long in an attempt to catch a caution. Austin Dillon, among others, ran nearly 20 laps after Truex and the leaders entered pit road. One of said drivers was Noah Gragson and, like Almirola’s pit stop 100 laps earlier, a tire was not tightened fully. The lug nut fell off minutes later as Gragson was on the front stretch, causing him to wreck in a turn one crash that looked eerily similar to his concussion-inducing wreck at Gateway in June.
After being checked at the care center, a dejected Gragson confirmed that he was OK.
The caution bunched up the field and invited chaos back into the race. Austin Dillon and Kevin Harvick stayed out to lead the race on the restart, with Truex lining up in third behind them. The race restarted with 23 laps remaining, and just 3 laps later, another caution flag flew. Alex Bowman was spun off the front bumper of Ty Gibbs, but sustained minimal damage and managed to recover to finish 14th.
The next restart also resulted in a quick yellow, as 3 laps after the race went green with 15 to go, Christopher Bell spun and backed into the fence. Bell was one of the favorites entering the race; instead, he struggled to hold track position and went home with a disappointing 29th place finish. One more restart was coming up, and this time, it stuck.
Truex, who reclaimed the lead with 24 laps left, controlled the final restart and cruised to the win without much challenge. The win is his third of the season, and second on a Monday (the first being Dover in May) after large amounts of rain pushed Sunday’s race to today.
Joey Logano mounted a late charge but was unable to get to Truex. His second place finish shows hints of more speed from the Ford camp. Kyle Larson, after all of Hendrick Motorsports struggled in practice and qualifying, consistently improved throughout the afternoon to finish in third.
Kevin Harvick led laps when he stayed out late. While he was unable to score a win at a track that he has won at 4 times previously, he did bring home a stellar fourth place finish. Brad Keselowski followed up last week’s strong run with another top 5 in fifth, his fourth of the season.
Tyler Reddick started and finished in sixth. His owner, Denny Hamlin, drove from a 20th starting spot to seventh and gained 2 positions in the points standings in the process. Bubba Wallace, Austin Dillon and Chase Briscoe, who scored his first top 10 since Talladega in April, rounded out the top 10.
William Byron, last week’s winner and points leader entering the weekend, struggled in the late stages of the race. His 24th place finish, combined with Truex earning the maximum amount of points available (2 stage wins and the race win) means that Truex is now the points leader, up 17 over Byron.
With only 6 races left in NASCAR’s regular season, the playoff bubble is tightening. 11 drivers are locked in with a win, leaving five spots available for drivers on points. Kevin Harvick is +137 points and should be clear even without a win, as are Brad Keselowski (+108) and Chris Buescher (+97). The last 2 spots are wide open, however. After today’s race at New Hampshire, Bubba Wallace holds the 15th spot, and is only +2 of the cutline. In 16th? Michael McDowell, just 1 point ahead of Daniel Suarez in 17th. NASCAR fans are in for a treat as the series steams towards the fall as the bubble battle heats up.
Next week, the NASCAR Cup Series travels to Pocono Raceway for its annual trip to the Tricky Triangle. The unique 2.5 mile, 3-cornered speedway will host the HighPoint.com 400 on Sunday, July 23rd at 2:30 EST on the USA network.
Ethan Miller is 17 years old and resides in Pennsylvania. He aspires to become a sports writer following high school, and views writing for Speedway Digest as the next step towards a career in journalism. Ethan currently hosts the QuickPitPodcast with a few fellow NASCAR fans, which can be found on all major podcast platforms.