Race Weekend Central

Pace Laps: Don’t Take Martin Truex Jr.’s 2019 Season for Granted

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: Don’t Take Martin Truex Jr. For Granted

This time last year, Martin Truex Jr. had yet to win a short track race in 13 years of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition.

After Sunday’s race (Oct. 27) at Martinsville Speedway? He’s got three.

Truex won half of the short track races held during the 2019 Cup season, putting together a steamroller-type performance in the First Data 500 as his crowning achievement. 464 laps led is a record at this paperclip-shaped oval in the modern era; it eclipsed even Brad Keselowski’s 446 laps led this spring. Aside from a six-lap stretch midrace where Kyle Larson led six circuits, Truex was never seriously challenged after cruising past Denny Hamlin for the top spot on lap 31.

His official margin of victory over William Byron was 0.373 seconds. Sure, a series of late restarts made Truex work a bit, but it never felt the final outcome was in doubt.

“As it kept going, I was like, damn, nobody is still catching us,” Truex said. “We’d do another run and we could still pull away.  Each time, I was a little bit more amazed at how good things were going.”

Where NASCAR nation should be amazed — and give proper credit — is how well Truex has kept his act together at Joe Gibbs Racing. It’s easy to forget Martinsville was his series-best seventh win of the 2019 season. He’s the first person to lock down a spot in the Championship 4 for the first time in his Cup career.

He’s done it with the strongest organization at the Cup level but with a program, the No. 19, that didn’t even qualify for the playoffs last year with Daniel Suarez. And while crew chief Cole Pearn came along from now-defunct Furniture Row Racing, there’s plenty of new personnel here that got involved. Just the move for Pearn from Denver, Colo. alone to the NASCAR shop mecca of Charlotte, N.C. had to be a gargantuan personal adjustment.

But this duo retains their quiet confidence in each other. Sunday marked their 19th win in the past three seasons; a second title in three years would easily make this stretch the best in NASCAR since Jimmie Johnson put together five straight titles from 2006-2010.

Not bad for a guy who, five years ago, earned one top-five finish with Furniture Row Racing and had all but two career Cup victories to his credit.

“I never had any doubt,” Truex said about his switch to JGR. “I wouldn’t have went there if I didn’t think I could win a championship. I would have retired.”

Boy, does the competition wish he reconsidered. This No. 19 Toyota team now runs the next two weeks with nothing to lose, earning a head start on building momentum for a title race where they’ll be hard to beat.

“We’ve never won the next two tracks, and we want to, so here we go,” Truex said of what happens next. “We’ll go see if we can do it.  But if we don’t, oh, well, it doesn’t really matter.”

Those are the words of a confident, relaxed 2019 championship favorite. – Tom Bowles


Gander Outdoors Truck Series: Todd Gilliland Raises Eyebrows

Through all of the playoff chaos that happened at Martinsville Speedway Saturday afternoon, Todd Gilliland scored his first career win in his 46th start with Kyle Busch Motorsports. Obviously elated over finally breaking through to victory lane, despite struggling through much of this season, the sophomore driver let out what amounted to months of frustration and yelled, “Kyle Busch you can stay in your f*&^ing motorhome” over the team radio.

People on Twitter went nuts over the comments. Some called it justified, others disrespectful. Some said Busch deserved it, while others called for Gilliland’s immediate firing.

“It was just kind of heat of the moment really,” Gilliland said when asked about his outburst. “Just a lot of emotions. Everyone has heard what he [Busch] said and obviously it’s true, we should’ve been running better. I’ve wanted to win for the last year and a half as well. [I] probably wish I didn’t say it now, but it is what it is. He said some stuff about me and it is what it is.”

It’s no secret Busch hasn’t been pleased with the performance Gilliland and teammate Harrison Burton have shown. In fact, earlier this season, he said the pair “ain’t doing shit” and graded the team’s performance a two out of 10 in June. Whether Busch’s critical comments are right or wrong, there’s no doubt they placed extra pressure on two drivers who were already frustrated over early season poor performance.

Speculation has already been widespread that Gilliland won’t remain with the team following the conclusion of the 2019 season, and it’s unlikely that a single win at Martinsville with several of the series’ top drivers already in the garage is going to change that. In fact, Gilliland even stated that his plans for 2020 are up in the air.

But the more pressing question is just how Busch might hold his driver accountable for the outburst on the radio. He could take offense to it and sideline Gilliland for the remainder of the season or brush it off as a passionate, heat of the moment comment, much like what Busch himself is known to do over the radio during a race.

My money’s on the latter and there won’t be anything else said by either party about it unless they’re asked about it. After all, it’s not the first time a driver has reacted in the heat of the moment and it certainly won’t be the last either. Don’t we want passion in NASCAR? – Beth Lunkenheimer


Formula One: Lewis Hamilton Inches One Race Closer to Six World Titles

The 2019 Mexican Grand Prix had the makings of a crazy race with Max Verstappen winning pole, being knocked down three places but still with a very fast car. Making contact with Lewis Hamilton on the first lap and differing strategy between the Ferrari drivers. But in the end, as it has become tradition, the one stop was the best strategy, and Hamilton got the job done for the victory.

With the win, Hamilton is all but assured to secure his sixth World Championship in Formula One and fifth in the last six seasons. A truly dominate period of time that just about matches the period of dominance of Michael Schumacher who won five straight titles from 2000 through 2004. 

Many can say that it wasn’t Hamilton as much as it was the Mercedes car, but the same could be said for Schumacher as that Ferrari, while sometimes bested by the BMW power of Williams, had the best race craft and strategy supporting Schumacher. Hamilton had to deal with a championship competing teammate for the first three years of this run, and a true title fight from Ferrari in 2018. What Hamilton has been able to do with a Mercedes car that has without a doubt taken advantage of the regulations is nothing short of incredible. With another year left of the current regulations before the revolutionary 2021 change, it would take a lot for the competition to stop Lewis from tying Schumacher with seven titles in 2020.

For the rest of the Mexican Grand Prix, the strategy made it look to be a close and exciting finish ended up being a lack luster finish, which is a bit of a surprise for how the F1 season has gone since the French Grand Prix. The F1 world looks to bring the excitement back to the stars and strips of Austin for the U.S. Grand Prix next weekend (Nov. 3). – Drew Mongiello


Sports Cars: IDEC Sport Wins 4 Hours of Portimao, ELMS Championship

“I Don’t Know.  Just We Are Champion.”

The quote above is from IDEC Sport’s Paul Lafargue, stated Sunday after he claimed the 2019 European Le Mans Series LMP2 championship along with teammates Paul-Loup Chatin and Memo Rojas.  The trio won the championship by virtue of winning Sunday’s crash-strewn 4 Hours of Portimao in Portugal.

The race was marred by a seven-car wreck on the first lap.  Jack Manchester spun his Carlin Dallara LMP2 and was struck multiple times.

Once the dust cleared, six cars were eliminated and the race was red-flagged for 52 minutes for cleanup.  Only the JMW Motorsport Ferrari was able to continue.


IDEC Sport’s victory came despite Rojas being spun out while fighting for the lead with G-Drive Racing’s Job van Uitert with 75 minutes to go.  Van Uitert was given a drive-through penalty.  That dropped the team to a sixth-place finish.

Chatin held off United Autosport’s Phil Hanson and Filipe Albuquerque by just under half a second for the win.  GRAFF Racing’s Alexandre Cougnaud, Tristan Gommendy and Jonathan Hirschi were third.

LMP3 saw 360 Racing’s Terence Woodward, Ross Kaiser and James Dayson claim victory in their Ligier JS P3-Nissan.  Their winning margin was 20.597 seconds over Inter Europol Competition’s Martin Hippe and Nigel Moore, who claimed the LMP3 championship.  United Autosports’ Wayne Boyd, Tommy Erdos and Garrett Grist were third.

The GTE class was ravaged by the first-lap crash.  Four of the eight starters were involved and three retired, including the Dempsey-Proton Racing Porsches that started one-two.  Luzich Racing’s Fabien Lavergne, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Nicklas Nielsen claimed the class win in their Ferrari.  Kessel Racing’s David Perel, Sergio Pianezzola and Andrea Piccini were 50.551 seconds back in second.  Ebimotors’ Porsche with Fabio Babini, Marco Frezza and Gianluca Giraudi were third. – Phil Allaway

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The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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