Story By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – LOUDON, NH – Martin Truex Jr. had led more than 900 laps at New Hampshire Motor Speedway without claiming any victory hardware in 29 previous starts at the 1.058-mile oval.
However, the driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota left absolutely no doubt about securing that career first win in Monday’s rain-delayed Crayon 301 at the track, leading a dominating 254 of the 301 laps.
The impressive work was the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion’s third victory of the season – and second in a rain-delayed Monday race (also Dover, Del.). He survived three restarts in the final 24 laps and ultimately held off one of the local favorites, Connecticut driver Joey Logano across the finish line by a slight .394-seconds – although for most of the day Truex held the field at bay by more than a second in the first Monday afternoon race in the track’s 30-year history with the series.
The 42-year-old New Jersey native clearly had the car to beat – and no one could. His work not only earned the famed live lobster trophy, but also propelled him into the NASCAR Cup Series champion lead by 17 points ahead of Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron.
Asked if there was a track on the schedule where he wanted to win more than New Hampshire, Truex smiled, “I don’t think so.’’ His previous best finish was third place – three times. Five times he’d led more than 100 laps, including last year when he led a race high 172 laps, only to finish fourth.
“What we’ve been able to do here over the years was pretty remarkable and to not win was really getting frustrating,’’ Truex said. “[Crew chief] James [Small] and I have talked about it many times and talked with [teammate] Christopher [Bell] before the race and he said, ‘you’ve led more laps here than I’ve even run here in the Cup Series.’’
“Just really awesome job by everybody. What a race car we had here today. Just proud of the whole team. Pit stops were flawless. The car was unbelievable. We had some challenges throughout the race and the car was a handful at times, but we put our heads down and just kept digging.’’
Truex led 163 of the opening 185 laps taking both the Stage 1 and Stage 2 wins to triple his total on the season. In the opening stage, NASCAR Cup Series championship leader, and four-race winner Byron was in hot pursuit. Later in the race Truex had to fend off Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and Logano.
“When you’re at your home race track, second hurts more than anywhere else,’’ said Penske Racing’s Logano. “There’s no place I want to win more than here and came up one spot short. That one stings but overall, still have to say it’s a good day. Just mad right now.’’
Hendrick Motorsports’ Larson, four-time New Hampshire Motor Speedway race winner, Stewart-Haas Racing driver, soon-to-retire Kevin Harvick was fourth in his final start at the track. Brad Keselowski, owner-driver of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing team, rounded out the Top-5.
“We were fortunate we had fresher tires than most and were able to stay out and get most of that back,’’ Harvick said. “We’ve just got to be able to do what we need to do when it counts.’’
23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick finished sixth, followed by Truex’s JGR teammate Denny Hamlin. 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace, Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon and SHR driver Chase Briscoe rounded out the Top-10.
Byron, who led nine laps, finished 24th.
His Hendrick Motorsports’ teammate Chase Elliott, who is still trying to claim a 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff position after missing six races this season, struggled much of the day. Elliott conceded after qualifying that he was not particularly optimistic about his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet this weekend.
Still, he rallied to a 12th place finish in the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and remains ranked 23rd – now only 60 points out of 16th place in the standings with the Top-16 drivers transfering to the 10-race Championship round that starts in September.
Kyle Busch, who was second in the championship standings entering Sunday’s race, had a short day on an overall disappointing visit to New Hampshire. He spun the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet in qualifying and had to start at the rear of the field after repairs post-qualifying. Then he made contact with the wall as the field came to the caution flag for Stage 1 on Sunday.
The RCR team looked at the car on pit road but decided it was too damaged for repair, leaving him last in the 36-car field and dropping him to fifth place in the championship standings, 74 points behind new leader Truex.
“I’ve been lacking right-rear grip the whole time we’ve been here,’’ said Busch, a three-time NASCAR Cup Series winner at New Hampshire. “Just couldn’t get the right-rear feel in the race track. You’re just going along trying to keep it under you as much as you can
“Hate it for our No. 8 team. Our Chevy stuff was a little off this week, at least for us anyway. We’ll get back to it at Pocono.’’
The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action Sunday at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway in the HighPoint.com 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, USA Network, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
NASCAR Cup Series Race – Crayon 301
New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Loudon, New Hampshire
Monday, July 17, 2023
(2) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 301.
(4) Joey Logano, Ford, 301.
(15) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 301.
(13) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 301.
(9) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 301.
(6) Tyler Reddick, Toyota, 301.
(20) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 301.
(8) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 301.
(11) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 301.
(27) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 301.
(30) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 301.
(18) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 301.
(17) Michael McDowell, Ford, 301.
(25) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 301.
(26) Chris Buescher, Ford, 301.
(12) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 301.
(19) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 301.
(16) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 301.
(14) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 301.
(28) Harrison Burton, Ford, 301.
(23) Todd Gilliland, Ford, 301.
(5) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 301.
(31) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 301.
(7) William Byron, Chevrolet, 301.
(22) Austin Cindric, Ford, 301.
(35) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 301.
(36) Ty Gibbs #, Toyota, 301.
(21) Ryan Preece, Ford, 300.
(1) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 299.
(33) Ryan Newman, Ford, 299.
(32) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 295.
(29) Noah Gragson #, Chevrolet, Accident, 268.
(24) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 176.
(3) Aric Almirola, Ford, Accident, 168.
(34) Cole Custer(i), Ford, Accident, 130.
(10) Kyle Busch, Chevrolet, Accident, 71.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 101.572 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 8 Mins, 7 Secs. Margin of Victory: .396 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 8 for 41 laps.
Lead Changes: 13 among 9 drivers.
Lap Leaders: C. Bell 1;M. Truex Jr. 2-30;R. Stenhouse Jr. 31-33;W. Byron 34-42;M. Truex Jr. 43-164;A. Almirola 165-168;K. Larson 169-174;M. Truex Jr. 175-236;J. Logano 237-238;K. Harvick 239-244;A. Dillon 245-256;M. Truex Jr. 257-273;K. Harvick 274-277;M. Truex Jr. 278-301.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Martin Truex Jr. 5 times for 254 laps; Austin Dillon 1 time for 12 laps; Kevin Harvick 2 times for 10 laps; William Byron 1 time for 9 laps; Kyle Larson 1 time for 6 laps; Aric Almirola 1 time for 4 laps; Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 1 time for 3 laps; Joey Logano 1 time for 2 laps; Christopher Bell 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 19,24,45,10,12,20,11,99,22,34
Stage #2 Top Ten: 19,5,22,12,11,4,48,6,45,20