What might be as remarkable as Martin Truex Jr. ending an 80-race winless streak on short tracks Saturday at Richmond Raceway is that he now has victories with four different organizations.
No other active Cup driver can boast that.
Not every driver has the chance to stay with one organization their whole career as Jeff Gordon did and Jimmie Johnson and Denny Hamlin are doing, so what Truex has done is quite an accomplishment.
Then consider that three previous teams he won with — Dale Earnhardt Inc., Michael Waltrip Racing and Furniture Row Racing — are no longer in the sport.
Truex’s first career Cup victory came in 2007 with Dale Earnhardt Inc. His next victory wasn’t until 2013 at Michael Waltrip Racing. He lost his ride after that season when NAPA left the organization as a sponsor after the penalties NASCAR assessed MWR for its actions in the fall Richmond race. Truex then went to Furniture Row Racing and won 17 races before it closed its doors after last season.
Truex’s win at Richmond came with Joe Gibbs Racing.
While some members of Truex’s team at Furniture Row Racing followed him and crew chief Cole Pearn to JGR, not all did.
“It’s a new group of guys and a new group of people,” Truex said. “New pit crew. Just the way everybody fits together, works together – it’s a little bit different and that’s always something that can take a while to get rolling.”
Although he was a part of competition meetings in the past — Furniture Row Racing was aligned with JGR — Truex admits those meetings feel a bit different now.
“You feel like part of the team now and not a competitor,” he said.
Even with joining Joe Gibbs Racing, Truex’s team does have some independence.
“I think for the most part, for what I see, we get to do our own thing and we have leeway to make some options here and there and make decisions,” he said. “Some guys want to go down one path, and if we want to go down a different one, then certainly I feel like we have the ability to do that.”
Truex’s victory separated him from a group of active drivers who have won with three different organizations.
Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Ryan Newman each has wins with three different organizations.
Bowyer has won with Richard Childress Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing. Busch has won with Roush Fenway Racing, Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing. Newman has won with Team Penske, Stewart-Haas Racing and Richard Childress Racing.
Busch, who is with Chip Ganassi Racing, and Newman, who is with Roush Fenway Racing, could join Truex with having at least one victory with four different organizations if they win with their new teams this season.
How challenging was Saturday night’s race for drivers at Richmond?
Here’s what some said:
“Hard to pass,” Kyle Busch said repeatedly after the race.
“I could only gain two or three positions at a time per run,” said Denny Hamlin, who finished fifth after he started at the rear because his car failed inspection before the race. “It literally took us 400 laps to get to the top five. … I just got caught behind guys I was faster than, I just couldn’t get around them.”
Asked how aero dependent the cars are even on a short track, runner-up Joey Logano said: “Very, very, very, very, very aero dependent. Clean air is worth a lot. … It gets really tough when you get behind cars. The tire Goodyear brought didn’t rubber the race track at all, so we were all kind of stuck on the bottom, couldn’t find much area to get clean air.”
Said winner Martin Truex Jr.: “Man, it’s just tough. You already have no grip at all, your tires are completely wore out, feel like you’re running on bologna skins, and you catch a car and you feel like you lose all the air in your car. It feels like you’re driving on a road … you’re going around a turn, everything is fine, you feel normal, and you hit black ice. What happens? That’s the difference between being in front of a car and behind a car. You just lose all that grip.”
Here’s what Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio about the rules package:
“I continue to say and believe that directionally this is the right call. I’d say that we’ve moved on to this is the 2019 rules package and we’re happy with it. We continue to learn, obviously, each track we go to. Each track presents a different challenge.
“Any time you can run a long, long green-flag run with 145 laps and have four drivers in contention there at the end, I view as a success. You can always learn and always make some tweaks, which we will continue to do, but all in all really happy with the direction we’ve gone and continue to learn.”
Saturday’s Richmond race had 359 green-flag laps, featuring 1,238 green-flag passes. Chase Elliott had a race-high 73 green-flag passes. Hamlin and Aric Almirola were next with 71 each.
Last year’s spring race at Richmond had 356 green-flag laps, featuring 2,495 green-flag passes. Danica Patrick had a race-high 119 green-flag passes. Eighteen drivers had more than 73 green-flag passes.
For all the angst Kyle Larson has gone through lately, perhaps the biggest blow to his season was a speeding penalty at Atlanta.
While Larson has finished 37th or worse in two of the last three races and placed outside the top 15 in the last four races, the penalty at Atlanta cost him a chance to win.
He led 142 of the first 223 laps that day before the speeding penalty and couldn’t recover, finishing 12th. Although a win wouldn’t have changed the recent results he’s had, it could have cushioned some of the disappointment with the team set for the playoffs.
Instead, Larson’s struggles have dropped him to 19th in the points and outside a playoff spot.
After he fell out of Saturday night’s race at Richmond, Larson said: “It’s been a pretty crappy start to the year.”
Car owner Chip Ganassi understands Larson’s frustration.
“He’s in what I would call one of those rough career slumps for one reason or another,” Ganassi said before Sunday’s IndyCar race at Long Beach. “Yeah. I’d like to tell you that it was his fault or mine. I think we have had our moments when it’s been our team’s fault or his.
“What happens is it starts a snowball thing. Once that little thing happens, it often times is out of everybody’s control, and it snowballs. It’s just unfortunate.
“He has my full support. He has the team’s full support. He knows that there’s nothing that we or the team or anybody else wants more than to put a weekend together. It’ll be coming soon, I’m confident.”
What to do about qualifying?
NASCAR made each round of Cup qualifying five minutes at Richmond, reducing the first and second round from 10 minutes.
The point was to keep cars from sitting on pit road for part of the session, which happened the week before at Bristol. Drivers sat at Bristol because no one wanted to be first out on track because the traction compound didn’t activate until it had some heat in it. When it didn’t have that heat (such as when it sat there with no cars on track), it was slick. So drivers waited.
There was no traction compound used at Richmond so that wouldn’t have been a reason for the field to sit on pit road.
“The optics of drivers sitting on pit road I don’t think works for the sport,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday. “I think the teams would agree with that as well. We looked at cutting down the time.
“All in all, I think it worked out well. We’re still continuing to look at what we want to do beyond Talladega (single-car qualifying) and have some additional discussions.”
Opinion was mixed on the change to the qualifying format at Richmond.
“When you come to Richmond you’re looking for clean air,” Joey Logano said. “The tracks you’re looking for clean air, we don’t have to have to have that rule (five minutes per round). But when we go to the (tracks where drafting plays a role), that’s where you need it.”
One issue is that with only five minutes per round, it makes it difficult for a team to make more than one attempt per round. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made two runs in the second round but wasn’t fast enough on his last attempt to advance to the final round.
“It wasn’t adequate to go out twice,” Stenhouse said. “With five-minute rounds, the whole group qualifying format of coming in and going back out, that was the reasoning behind doing the group, you’ve kind of eliminated it.
“We were in the first wave of cars on the track, came right back in and started cooling it down and tried to get tire pressures where we needed. You just don’t have enough time. So as far as coming in and going back out and knocking people out, it’s not going to happen.”
Clay Campbell, president of Martinsville Speedway, told NBC Sports that the track has taken deposits from people in 32 states and Canada for the May 2020 race. The track’s spring date next year moves to May 9, the day before Mother’s Day.
Campbell said that the track plans to send out renewal notices in early summer for that May 2020 race, but fans wanting tickets to that event can put down a deposit of $20 per ticket with the track now.
Nate Ryan contributed to this report