Race Weekend Central

Martin Truex Jr. Only Driver to Gamble at Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS – Martin Truex Jr. did not have a racecar fast enough to win the Pennzoil 400, but with a little more help, he just may have.

When the caution flag flew with a handful of laps to go, everyone on the lead lap came to pit road – except for Truex. His crew chief James Small gambled and elected to keep the No. 19 Toyota on the racetrack with tires that were more than 40 laps old.

“It’s a lottery anyway,” Small told Frontstretch. “Best we could have run is third had it stayed green. Those Hendrick (Motorsports) cars just had a little bit more today.”

Many of the leaders took right-side tires on the last stop, so Truex was only at a disadvantage on two of his tires. Still, Truex was “not very confident” he could hold onto the lead.

“We just hoped we would get to the white [flag] and maybe they would crash,” Truex said. “We did OK the first lap. We held second there for almost a whole lap and got into [turn] 1 in second after the white.

“So we were in pretty good shape there, but got real tight in [turns] 1 and 2 and got freight-trained down the backstretch.”

Truex still hung on for a seventh-place finish, just slightly worse than he ran through most of the day. He finished the first two stages in sixth and fourth.

“At the end, we just took a gamble,” Truex said. “We were going to run probably at best third or fourth and threw a Hail Mary and finished seventh. So not really a big deal there.”

Winner William Byron‘s crew chief Rudy Fugle was surprised more cars didn’t stay out and gamble along with Truex.

See also
William Byron Holds On With Vegas Win

“I thought there would be some more, yes,” Fugle told Frontstretch. “I thought we would be restarting row three if we pitted for rights (side tires). I expected three or four. I don’t know if they weren’t good enough or whatever. …

“It’s a super hard decision. Only two laps to go, hard to kind of break that first row up. So I think somebody naturally could have won if there would’ve been enough people staying out.”

Small thought they needed “probably two or three” more to stay out with them to in order to win.

“Three would’ve been ideal,” Small said. “I’m surprised nobody else tried it. There were a few cars in the back that I thought, given their histories, might come and do it.”

Just one year ago in the spring Las Vegas race, Truex was on the other side of a gamble that paid off. That day, Truex was battling for the win with Kyle Busch when a late caution came out and ended up not getting the win after Alex Bowman‘s team gambled by taking two tires while Truex took four.

Small admitted last year’s race was on his mind when he made the call at the end.

“Yeah, it was, and it was just obvious the whole field pretty much was going to do right-side tires. So at that point, we’re going to come down fourth, and at best, we probably would’ve left fourth and maybe even worse. So I don’t know, I hedged my bets and thought, ‘Eh, let’s have a go.'”

Even had Small elected for Truex to pit, maintaining their spot in the top five was no guarantee. Denny Hamlin was third prior to the final caution. He dropped like a rock on the final restart and finished 11th.

“We’re in Vegas, we might as well roll the dice and, like everybody says, we come here to gamble,” Truex said. “I was proud of James for that. Last year we didn’t and it bit us. We gave up a few spots, but all in all it was a solid day.”

The finish was Truex’s first top 10 of 2023, not including the win in the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum. This finish, combined with a 15th and an 11th the past two weeks, have Truex fifth in the points standings.

About the author

Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share via