DARLINGTON, S.C. — While Kevin Harvick stewed, Martin Truex Jr. celebrated after Sunday’s Southern 500.
But Truex could relate, in a way, to Harvick’s frustration after having a chance at victory go away. Issues on pit road cost Harvick several spots, dropping him out of the lead twice during the race. Whether it has been mistakes or bad luck, Truex has had similar experiences even in a year where he’s won two of the biggest races of the season — the Coca-Cola 600 and the Southern 500.
Last week at Michigan, the left rear tire was not set on Truex’s car when the jack dropped. The incident damaged the left rear quarter panel, resulting in a 20th-place finish. It was one of 10 incidents on pit road this season — from contact with another car to lug nuts knocking off the inner valve stem to speeding penalties — that have plagued Truex and his team.
“We’ve had so many things happen to us throughout the summer,’’ Truex told NBC Sports after his Southern 500 win. “We show up at the race track, we have confidence in what we’re doing. We know we have the speed, and we know if we can just put it all tighter we’ll be fine. Really we didn’t do anything different (Sunday) than the last couple of weeks or for all summer or for all season for that matter. We just did our thing and the race came to us.’’
Asked if he believed that some of his bad luck could even out, Truex said: “I would hope at some point it would. That’s the only thing that keeps your head above water when all those things are happening, it keeps trying to pull you under. You get up and you say the next week it’s going to change and it can’t happen again and it does and then you’re like ‘OK next week it’s going to change.’ You continue to come back and work hard.’’
Truex said that it is important how the team handles and addresses mistakes and misfortune.
“When we do things wrong, absolutely we talk about it,’’ Truex said. “We’re our biggest critics. If I screw up, I’m going to try to figure out how to fix it, and I’m going to tell my guys I’m sorry and I’m not going to let it happen again, and they do the same and that was proof with the pit crew this week (after their Michigan miscue) with how hard they worked. Look at what they did.’’
Truex credited his pit crew with getting him off pit road first during their next-to-last stop on Lap 328. Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski stayed out, putting Truex third on the restart. Truex took the lead on Lap 339. He led all but one lap the rest of the way to earn his second victory of the season.
GRAND SLAM DRIVER
Martin Truex Jr.’s Southern 500 victory helped him clinch NASCAR’s Grand Slam title Sunday.
Truex had an average finish of 3.0 for the sport’s four biggest races: Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, Brickyard 400 and Southern 500.
He won the Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500, finished second in the Daytona 500 by inches to Denny Hamlin and placed eighth in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis.
Here are the drivers with the best average finish in those four races this year:
3.0 — Martin Truex Jr.
3.25 — Denny Hamlin
3.5 — Kevin Harvick
6.75 — Joey Logano
7.0 — Kyle Larson
Kevin Harvick’s runner-up finish marked the 11th consecutive Grand Slam race that he has finished in the top 10. The last time Harvick did not place in the top 10 in either the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, Brickyard 400 or Southern 500 was the 2014 Daytona 500 — his first race at Stewart-Haas Racing. Harvick’s average finish in those races during that span is 4.0.
The next longest active streak of top-10 finishes in Grand Slam races is nine by Denny Hamlin after he placed fourth in the Southern 500. His average finish in that streak is 4.0
On the manufacturer side, Truex’s win marked the seventh consecutive Grand Slam race Toyota has won.
After his burnout, Elliott Sadler climbed from his victorious Xfinity car, stood on it as the fans cheered Saturday at Darlington and held his head in his hands.
It was a win at Darlington and so much more.
“To try to be candid with you, a month ago I was retired,’’ Sadler said, noting that sponsor One Main announced in July that it would not return after this season, leaving Sadler without a sponsor and likely a ride.
“I didn’t really know what else I was going to do. I wanted to keep racing, but you’re never guaranteed anything in this sport. To go from maybe being retired to winning a race at Darlington, a place that I came here as a kid, is a pretty doggone lot of emotions.’’
One Main reversed course last month and announced it would remain in the sport, signing a multi-year extension with JR Motorsports, giving Sadler a home.
That’s only part of the emotional roller-coaster Sadler has been on lately. His mother was hospitalized in intensive care recently before returning home.
“My mom is getting better,’’ Sadler said. “She still has to have another surgery in a couple of weeks. She is getting better. From the Sunday after Watkins Glen … to know she’s went from maybe not having her anymore to now, she’s come a long way. That’s been pretty emotional.’’
— Kevin Harvick’s runner-up finish was his 23rd such finish since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. He has 33 top-two finishes in 97 starts for SHR. Harvick is averaging a top-two finish in 34 percent of his starts with the organization.
— The last eight Sprint Cup races have each been won by a different driver.
— Denny Hamlin’s fourth-place finish marked his seventh consecutive top-10 result.
— Chris Buescher’s 17th-place finish was his fourth top-20 in the last six races. He had two top-20 finishes in the season’s first 19 races.
— After opening the season with 14 top-10 finishes in the first 16 races, Kurt Busch has two top-10 finishes in the last nine races.
— Kasey Kahne’s seventh-place finish was his first top-10 result in the last nine races.
— Hendrick Motorsports is winless in its last 20 races. That ties for the fourth-longest winless drought in team history. The team went 20 races without a win in the 1989-90 seasons. The team’s longest drought was 40 races between 1991 and ’92.
— Jeff Gordon continues to seek his first top-10 finish since filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 car. Gordon finished 13th at Indianapolis, 27th at Pocono, 14th at Watkins Glen, 11th at Bristol and 14th at Darlington. Gordon will be in Earnhardt’s car this weekend at Richmond.
— Danica Patrick’s 24th-place finish continued a trend. In the last six races, she has finished between 21st and 24th in each event.