Weather delays, standing water and a postponement north of 15 hours did not faze any driver, and especially one of Martin Truex Jr.’s caliber. After staying near the top all race, Truex Jr. was able to pull away and prevail at Martinsville Speedway Sunday evening.
The victory snaps the seven-race streak of a different driver winning each contest (Truex Jr. won at Phoenix Raceway on Mar. 14). With the win, Truex Jr. has won at Martinsville in three of his last four races there.
Mist, rain, air-blowers and everything in-between was all too familiar Saturday evening at the start of the race at Martinsville Speedway. Even still, season points leader Denny Hamlin, who had yet to pick up a win coming into the race, quickly showed his speed and shot ahead of Joey Logano less than five laps into the race.
The new race leader in the No. 11 for Joe Gibbs Racing continued to pad his lead until Mother Nature brought out the red flag on lap 42. After valiant efforts from the Air Titans came to no avail, the race was postponed until the next day.
The resumption of the race saw a different change in strategy, as increased rubber saw the field see more usage in the inside and outside lane. In particular, Ryan Blaney utilized the inside corners through the turns to overtake Hamlin for the lead on lap 75.
Blaney’s speed only increased as he continued to find the inside grooves and went on to pick up the stage one victory, his second of the season.
Hamlin’s speed, however, did not go away quietly, as a crisp shot out of the gate upon the start of stage two almost immediately vaulted him back into the lead. This, however, was relatively short-lived by Martinsville standards, as Blaney retook the lead less than 35 laps later.
As the laps continued to wear on the track, the middle lane became a much more attractive option, especially coming out of the turns.
A Cody Ware caution on lap 240, along with a caution between Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Newman 10 laps later, packed the field together in typical paper clip fashion and only made the middle lane more congested. Even with the cars all stacked on top of each other, the same two drivers in Blaney and Hamlin battled it out for the stage two title, with the former just squeaking out the victory for his second stage win of the day.
Upon the start of stage three, decisions needed to be made in regard to when to take a risk or wait. For Hamlin, his risk came in staying out when Blaney pitted. Additional pit road action eventually gave Bubba Wallace a lead upon a restart on lap 297, but Hamlin could not be stopped, as three-wide action and tricky maneuverability gave him the lead once more on lap 324.
As the race continued to wear on, more rubber continued to compile as the track cooled. With the changing track conditions, along with the slowly diminishing laps, more need for risk was needed to be made. Unfortunately for Kyle Busch and Chris Buescher, the pair made contact, got loose and created a 10-car pileup on lap 385.
After the red flag was lifted and the race resumed with 104 to go, banging and pin-balling was all too familiar, as was the usage of the middle lane. Even still, Hamlin’s short-run speed was not able to hold off Blaney’s long-run potential, as the latter eventually caught up to the former with less than 70 to go. However, Blaney was forced to go to the rear after he removed equipment from pit road following a Chase Briscoe caution with 49 to go.
After Truex Jr. won the battle off pit road, Hamlin used the outside lane to retake the lead, but only for 26 laps before Truex battled back to the point. Truex Jr. did not let up and pulled away late to claim the win.
Despite leading for 276 laps, Hamlin finished second. The win is currently Hamlin’s best of the 2021 season. With the finish, Hamlin has now finished inside the top five in seven of his eight races this season.
After being forced to the rear late in the race, Blaney battled back and finished 11th. The finish snaps a four-race streak of finishing inside the top 10.
The Cup Series will continue its East Coast swing with a race at Richmond Raceway on Apr. 18. Coverage for the race will begin at 3:00 p.m. EST on FOX.
Unofficial playoff standings: