Martin Truex Jr. went back-to-back both at Richmond Raceway and in consecutive Cup playoff races, winning Saturday night’s middle race of the Round of 16 opening playoff round. Not only did Truex win at the .750-mile short track, he also won there back in April.
And on top of that, he followed up last Sunday’s playoff-opening win at Las Vegas with another checkered flag Saturday night.
Kyle Busch led the most laps (202) and finished second, while Denny Hamlin was third. Erik Jones was originally scored as finishing fourth, which would have made it the first time in Joe Gibbs Racing history that it has finished 1-2-3-4 in a NASCAR Cup race, but Jones’ finish was disqualified after failing post-race inspection. Jones was scored last (38th place).
As for the points, Truex increased his lead to 21 points over Kevin Harvick and 24 points over Kyle Busch. Even so, Harvick and Busch have earned enough points in the first two playoff races to lock themselves into the Round of 12 that starts in two weeks.
Martin Truex Jr. rebounded from a spin with 85 laps to go to win Saturday’s Cup Series playoff race at Richmond Raceway, completing a sweep of the season’s two races on the short track and giving him wins in the first two playoff races.
Truex now has six wins this year and 22 in the last four seasons.
“I feel like Danny Sullivan or something right now,” Truex told NBCSN, referencing to the driver who spun and then won the 1985 Indianapolis 500. “I’m speechless. Unbelievable job, all my guys. … Had a heck of a race with Kyle and Denny (Hamlin) all night long, really. We just kept plugging away at it, plugging away at it. That’s what we always do, just keep digging and we never quit.
“Next thing you know I’m catching (Busch) for the lead. I’m like, ‘Cool, here we go.'”
WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Ryan Newman earned his second top five of the year, his third straight top 10 … Denny Hamlin has finished in the top three in six of the last nine races … Bubba Wallace finished 12th for his third top-15 finish in the last five races … Jimmie Johnson earned his first top 10 with crew chief Cliff Daniels.
WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Reed Sorenson finished 37th after he got in the wall on Lap 243 and brought out the caution … Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola each received speeding penalties during the race and finished 18th and 16th … Chris Buescher‘s streak of top-18 finishes ended at 16 races after he placed 31st, seven laps down … Alex Bowman and William Byron placed four laps down in 23rd and 24th.
NOTABLE: This was the eighth time in their careers that Truex and Kyle Busch have finished 1-2 (or Busch was 1-2 with Truex) and the third time this year. … Truex is the fourth driver to win the first two playoff races, following Matt Kenseth (2013), Tony Stewart (2011) and Greg Biffle (2008).
WHAT’S NEXT: Bank of America Roval 400 at Charlotte Motor Speedway at 2:30 p.m. ET Sept. 29 on NBC
First off, sorry to @MartinTruex_Jr and his fans. Didn’t anticipate locking the RF up and getting into him. Glad he was able to come back & still win. It killed our great run we had going inside the top 10. The team brought a great @FastenalRacing mustang. Hate i messed it up pic.twitter.com/lTxovsNp0T
The starting lineup will be finalized tomorrow after pre-race inspection. One failure will result in a qualifying time being disallowed. Should it be made official it will be Keselowski’s third pole of the season, his most since earning three in 2015.
“I didn’t know what to expect, we didn’t do a qualifying run in practice, but we’ve had phenomenal short-run speed here,” Keselowski told NBCSN. “Haven’t necessarily qualified all that well but when the race comes we get the short runs and and we can really make some steam.”
When Shane Wilson answered his phone Tuesday he was in the process of leaving a UPS store, a weekly destination that’s part of his many crew chief duties at Ryan Sieg Racing.
This week the team had to: prepare three cars for Friday’s Xfinity Series race at Richmond – including a car for Hermie Sadler, who is making his first Xfinity start since 2016 and the first ever for RSR, as well as repair a wrecked No. 93 car from Las Vegas and get Ryan Sieg’s No. 39 Chevrolet ready for a playoff run.
“Shoooo, we’re busy,” Wilson tells NBC Sports. “But, you know, good busy.”
That’s all been done with seven crew members at the team’s shop located just outside of Atlanta.
“We can go with seven-and-a-half to make sure I don’t leave anybody out,” jokes Wilson.
At the UPS store he had mailed a shock destined for Vermont. Its recipient would be Steve Hibberd, the team’s shock guy.
Hibberd is a former employee of Orleans Racing, the Truck Series effort for Brendan Gaughan in the early 2000s that Wilson led.He’s one of Wilson’s two “secret weapons.”
The other is another Orleans team member and former Dodge employee, Ryan Isabel, who provides engineering support for the team in identifying trends via a database of car setups.
This small, spread out operation helped Sieg produce the best season in his six years of full-time Xfinity competition and his second playoff berth, following his 2016 campaign.
He enters Richmond with two top fives and nine top 10s (matching his top 10s from the rest of his Xfinity career). His previous best total for top 10s was three in 2016, the first time he went to the playoffs.
But Wilson, a former long-time employee at Richard Childress Racing who crew chiefed for Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, doesn’t seem too stressed about the playoffs before him or his limited resources. In fact, he’s having his most fun in NASCAR in “a long time.”
For a former electrician apprentice from Vermont, he could be doing worse.
“Whenever I have a bad day in racing I think about running pipe in December in Vermont along the Connecticut River,” Wilson says with a chuckle.
Sieg and Wilson don’t want to hype up a potential Cinderella story for the Xfinity Series playoffs, even if it does have a few ingredients for that.
Sieg and his small team will start their playoff run at the track he had his best non-superspeedway performance earlier this year.
The April 12th race at Richmond saw Sieg start 13th, finish Stage 2 in fifth and then finish the race in fifth for his second top five of the year.
That leads into the Sept. 28 race on the Charlotte Roval. The opening round then closes out at Dover International Speedway.
Wilson sees the first round as three “opportunity races.”
“They’re not cookie cutter mile-and-a-halves, like Vegas,” Wilson says. “I really feel like we can go there and do well.
“I like road racing, Ryan doesn’t necessarily like road racing. I’m trying to get him in the state of mind and that’s a good opportunity race.”
There are a few of those.
They make Wilson a “realist” about their situation, especially when it comes to facing the juggernauts of Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske and the other Cup-affiliated teams.
First, there’s the cars.
Those Cup-affiliated teams will likely be bringing new or updated cars to the track as the playoffs open.
“Here we will be running the same cars as we have been because that’s what we have,” Wilson says. “But I don’t think I’d ever switch that anyway, you gotta kind of ride the horse that got you there and try not to out trick yourself or race something that’s a little bit better cause you really need to bring something you know and that you’ve raced all year then see where you land.”
Then there’s the playoff points.
Sieg enters Richmond 11th in the standings with 2,001 points after the standings were reset. That one playoff point is a result of Sieg winning Stage 2 at Texas Motor Speedway in March.
“Looking at it, those top three cars (Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick) have such a big advantage, you almost have to pencil them into Homestead,” Sieg says. “To make it through the first (round), that’s what we want to do and need to do. But if we don’t, be consistent over the seven races and get top 10 in points, I think we got eliminated in the first round in 2016, but we still finished ninth in the standings. So it’s always nice to be top 10 in points. … Anything can happen.”
However, with all that, there’s one additional tool in the No. 39 team’s utility belt they didn’t have in April.
They return to Richmond with a Cup pit crew, which they began using in May at Charlotte.
Why is that notable?
“We lost I think 30 spots on pit road that first race and still finished top five,” Sieg says.
Well, maybe it felt like 30.
“It wasn’t quite 30, but it was like 17 though,” Wilson says with a hearty laugh. “Which is still a lot.”
Even with a more experienced pit crew, Sieg’s philosophy on what happens on pit road has been drilled into him.
“We don’t want to gain spots on pit road, we don’t want to lose any either,” Sieg says. “We just want to maintain. I bet you in my career if you counted the number of times I’ve come off pit road I’ve probably lost more positions than I want to count. That’s part of being a small team. If we come in eighth and Brandon Jones is ninth, he’s got a Joe Gibbs pit crew. If they beat us by two seconds, you’re going to lose that spot. I’ve kind of dealt with that a lot in my career. I’m not complaining, cause it’s part of what it is. So I just want to come in 10th and go out 10th. Yeah, it would be great to come out fourth, but that’s less realistic.”
And what if that Cup pit crew had been in place at Richmond six months ago?
“We might of won,” Wilson says. “Or we would have finished second. Because we passed two guys who finished in front of us about three different times. The only one we never passed was (winner Cole Custer).”
While advancing to the next round would be huge for Sieg’s team, Wilson’s goal for the next three races is straightforward: “finish ahead of four of those guys every week” and “accumulate enough points to make them have to race us at Dover.”