To say Martin Truex Jr. was sailing Sunday afternoon would be quite ironic, given the fact he was in a racecar instead of a sailboat.
However, this statement still held true for most of the race at Darlington Raceway. The 40-year-old’s cushion was reminiscent to his earlier season success, and while the likes of Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson made it interesting, the No. 19 machine for Joe Gibbs Racing was able to hang on and scoop up the win at the track “Too Tough to Tame” Sunday evening.
The win is Truex Jr.’s third of the season and his second at Darlington in his Cup career. Truex Jr.’s first career win at Darlington came close to five years ago (Sep. 4, 2016). The win also gives Truex Jr. 30 in the Cup Series.
The Mother’s Day action did not wait long to reveal itself at the “Lady in Black” Sunday afternoon. After Aric Almirola’s No. 10 machine was totaled in the backstretch on lap five, Kyle Busch additionally brought out the yellow on lap 21 after a spin via a right rear flat.
Slides and saves were all too apparent in what looked like an imitation of the Bristol Dirt Race, as the field attempted to save slides as they struggled to find a groove on both the inside and outside lane coming out of the turns.
No driver was making the high line work more than Tyler Reddick, as the No. 8 Chevrolet utilized the high line to trade off the second and third position with Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick.
A gamble to stay out during green flag pit stops came back to bite Ross Chastain, as the No. 42 McDonald’s throwback machine stayed out but was overtaken by Martin Truex Jr., who led the high lane before pitting began.
The final 20+ laps of stage one became a lap traffic scrum, as Bubba Wallace held off the race leader in Truex Jr. to remain on the lead lap until the No. 19 overtook him with five to go. Once Truex Jr. crossed the finish line to conclude stage won as the victor, over half of the field was down at least one lap.
While the gamble to anticipate a caution did not work in Chastain’s favor, Hamlin attempted the same maneuver after Kurt Busch spun out on the front stretch on lap 106. However, Truex Jr.’s speed through the first two turns of the lap 115 restart saw him retake the lead.
As Truex Jr. continued to lead once green flag pit stops concluded for stage two, William Byron held the second position in two over Kyle Busch, who worked his way all the way back up into the top three after tire issues earlier in the race. Although the pair battled for the runner-up spot, it was all for naught, as Truex Jr. dominated the high lane and won stage two by 14+ seconds.
While Byron continued to hold steady inside the top five at the start of the final stage, another Hendrick Motorsports driver who would make noise closer to the front, as Kyle Larson passed Kyle to take second with less than 60 to go. After the second batch of green flag pit stops concluded, Larson only trailed by a second but was able to trim it all the way with 27 to go. Although Larson was able to thread the needle through several three-wide situations with lap traffic, Truex Jr. was able to repel him just enough to capture the win.
Of the eight remaining cars on the lead lap, Larson finished the highest (second). It is his first finish inside the top five since Apr. 11 (fifth at Martinsville) and his fifth of the season.
Kyle Busch finished third. After winning the race at Kansas last weekend, Busch has now finished inside the top five in two consecutive races for the first time this season.
Although he was forced to the rear for unapproved adjustments, Elliott navigated all the way back to finish seventh. With the finish, Elliott has now finished inside the top 15 in five of his past six races this season.
Chris Buescher was the final car to finish on the lead lap (ninth). Buescher now has three top-10 finishes this season and is on pace to compile a 15.8 average finish, a career-high.
The Cup Series will conclude its brief two-race East Coast swing with a trip to Dover International Speedway on May 16. Coverage of the race will begin at 2:00 p.m. EST on FS1.
Unofficial race results:
Unofficial Playoff standings: