Photo courtesy of NASCAR
For two stages in Martinsville on Wednesday night, Martin Truex Jr. was an afterthought. When all was said and done, he was the race’s winner.
Truex dominated the final stage to take the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500.
Aric Almirola wasted no time taking the lead away from pole-sitter Ryan Blaney at the front of the pack. He did so within the race’s first 10 laps. Austin Dillon started the race by cutting a tire on Lap 8, bringing out the race’s first caution. Early on, the outside lane proved to be the wrong lane as driver after driver dropped position to the inside rank-and-file. Joey Logano went into the Lap 60 caution as the leader, and had already lapped over half the field. Stage 1 ended with former Cup champion Joey Logano carrying a strong lead over Clint Bowyer for his third stage win of 2020.
During an uncharacteristically long run without caution at Martinsville, Jimmie Johnson overtook Logano for the lead on the 73rd lap. Johnson started the night as Martinsville’s winningest active driver. Johnson rode his longest laps lead run of the 2020 season to a Stage 2 victory. Stage 2 had zero cautions for it’s entirety, allowing Johnson to maintain his over 1-second lead over Blaney. Blaney surged to a second place finish after running in 30th and being a lap down.
The surging Blaney would take advantage of the stage break and pass Johnson for the lead less than 10 laps into the third stage. Blaney’s lead would be short lived as Logano, his Penske teammate, passed him on the inside of Turn Two. Coming out of that turn, Blaney would send a little nudge into the back of Logano before Logano pulled away on the straightaway. Logano’s lead would last until lap 307 when he appeared to just let Blaney ride on by un-raced to his outside.
Blaney up to this point, is the only Penske driver not to win in 2020. Brad Keselowski and Logano each have two victories under their belt. On Lap 325, Erik Jones got into the back of David Starr’s No. 53 Chevrolet, sending all the lead lap cars to pit road for fuel and tires. Blaney was the biggest loser coming off pit road. Blaney lost multiple positions after suffering a pit stall caution for a crewman coming over the wall prematurely. Logano regained his lead coming out of the pit stop while Blaney fell to 16th place.
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Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 19 SiriusXM Toyota made light work of Keselowski’s lead on lap 370. Truex passed Keselowski as if he was just lap traffic. Rookie Quin Houff’s blue and orange No. 00 smashed the wall on Lap 398, bringing out a much-needed caution to stack the cars back up for more action packed racing. During the caution, Dillon had to be helped out of his car due to extreme heat.
He’d be given oxygen, fluids, and would not return to the race. It’s the second race in a row that a heat-related illness took it’s toll on the drivers; Bubba Wallace fainted during a post-race interview this past Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Also for the second race in a row, Stage 3 was dominated by a single driver.
On Wednesday night, it was Martin Truex Jr., who had an average lead of just under five seconds over the second place car; that can be an eternity at a short track like Martinsville. This was the former Cup champion Truex’s first victory of 2020, and his second victory at Martinsville in as many races. It’s Truex’s sixth straight season with at least one victory.
Maybe Martinsville should be spelled: Martin’s Ville.
The next race will be this coming Sunday, when the Cup Series travels to Homestead-Miami for the Dixie Vodka 400 at 3:30 p.m. ET.