It was starting to feel like we were living in the Bizarro World through the first two races of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season, as Martin Truex Jr. had not recorded a single top-10 finish. But after a solid third-place finish in Sunday’s Dixie Vodka 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Truex is starting to finally get things rolling.
Truex, 40, rolled from the starting grid in the ninth-position, a starting spot determined by NASCAR’s performance metric formula and in Stage 1, things were a bit of a roller coaster ride for Truex. However, his finish in Stage 1 set the tone for the remainder of the day.
Despite having a car that was reportedly tight and dragging the splitter, Truex worked his way up to sixth-place by lap seven. Truex would move inside the top-five thanks to quick pit service under the lap 25 competition caution, but he would snap loose on the restart and fall to 13th.
Truex would grind his way to eighth by a caution on lap 63, but once again quick pit work under the yellow moved him up to fourth.
In the closing laps of Stage 1, Truex would work his way around Alex Bowman for third. Truex would collect eight Stage Points for his efforts.
At this point, Truex had a much better No. 19 Toyota Camry. Truex reported to his team that the car was, “Much better taking off. Exit [of turn] is pretty good. Just need entry/center [of turn] better and it’ll be really good.”
After restarting seventh on lap 88 in Stage 2, Truex wasted little time moving forward.
By lap 102, Truex was around Chase Elliott for fourth. On lap 115, Truex was the quickest car on the track and he had moved to second. On lap 125, Truex took the lead for the first time in the race after a green-flag pit sequence.
A caution for fluid on the track with six laps left in Stage 2, set the field up for a one-lap shootout for the Stage 2 Win.
Truex led the field to the green flag, and it appeared that he had a great shot at the Stage Win. Then, going into turns three and four, he and his teammate Denny Hamlin got caught battling each other for the lead. Then, Hamlin slid up the track, nearly collided with Truex and bogged their momentum down, which allowed William Byron to sneak by on the inside for the Stage Win.
Truex would once again score eight Stage Points for finishing third in the Stage, but he wasn’t very happy with his teammate, Hamlin.
“I’ll ask him what happened,” Truex said of the finish of Stage 2, following the race. “I don’t know if he just landed in the corner and got on the splitter or what. He just went straight and gave me nowhere to go, about ran me into the wall. Racing deal, but hopefully we can avoid those things as teammates.”
Before the start of the final Stage, Truex pitted for fresh tires — despite only having one lap on his tires — and adjustments. The top-16 would stay out, which meant Truex would be mired back in 17th on the restart.
Truex wouldn’t remain mired for very long. In one lap, Truex moved his No. 19 machine from 17th all the way up to fifth. It was an impressive charge, but Truex wouldn’t stop there.
On lap 170, Truex moved past Kurt Busch for fourth. On lap 187, he was around Hamlin for third and on lap 190, Truex cruised around Kyle Larson for second-place.
A crash between Ryan Blaney and Aric Almirola brought out the caution on lap 200.
Truex would take the lead on lap 206 from Kyle Larson, but three laps into Truex’s stint up front, eventual winner William Byron would scoot past Truex. Byron would pull away, and the race for the win for Truex was over.
“The track changed a lot. Our Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry was really fast at times. At times a little bit off. On that last run, for whatever reason, I was just babying it,” Truex explained. “The 24 (William Byron) got the lead from me on that restart and then the 5 (Kyle Larson) got by us and I’m just biding my time waiting for them to start coming back to me and they just never did. They obviously were really fast at the end and we weren’t quite as good that last run. These things are so hard to win. These cars are so touchy and just needed one more adjustment to have a chance.”
However, Truex was able to hang in there and score a solid third-place finish, and now he and the No. 19 team are starting to gain some momentum.
“My balance got off there in the last 40 laps or so and the car wouldn’t do what it did earlier. So close. The guys did a great job. It was a good, solid effort for our Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry. Just proud of everybody for working hard. It’s definitely something we can build on,” Truex said.
The New Jersey-native moved from 14th in the championship standings to ninth after the solid effort in the Dixie Vodka 400 and Sunday’s great finish marked the fifth-consecutive top-10 finish for Truex at 1.5-mile race tracks. As the NASCAR Cup Series heads to another 1.5-mile speedway next weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, you have to figure Truex, crew chief James Small and the entire No. 19 team will have a little bit of swagger in their step.
After two lackluster finishes to start the season, it appears that they are back.