Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Martin Truex Jr. Has a Rare Meltdown at Richmond

What Happened?

For the third spring in a row, Martin Truex Jr. looked to be in perfect position to win another race at Richmond Raceway. And for the third straight season, Truex wound up frustrated, as Denny Hamlin stole the victory from his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate in a surprising overtime finish. Joey Logano moved to second, and Truex fell to fourth.

With two laps left, Bubba Wallace made contact with Kyle Larson, spinning the No. 5 into the infield and bringing out the caution. Larson rebounded to third, making contact with an irate Truex on the final lap and after the checkered.

This is Hamlin’s second win of the season, and JGR swept the weekend. Coach Gibbs has won the last three races on Easter Sunday.

See also
Denny Hamlin Wins in Overtime Finish at Richmond

What Really Happened?

The oldest driver in the NASCAR Cup Series sits behind the wheel of the No. 19 car, and Truex doesn’t make many mistakes. Sure, we hear him get fired up behind the wheel in radio exchanges. Whether that anger directs toward his team or a lapped car in front of him, Truex rarely allows his emotion to mix into his driving.

The cars looked stuck in the final stage as Truex cruised towards another victory. Pressure from a closing Logano had Truex slightly flustered with the lapped car of Ross Chastain, but with two to go, Truex surely had the race in hand until the late Larson spin occurred.

After the Hamlin crew wrestled the lead away, the ensuing restart held more controversy. It certainly looked like Hamlin jumped the restart. A no-call allowed Hamlin to hold on, while a fuming Truex took his anger out on Larson in a rare moment of general vengeance.

A chain of events that started building pressure two years ago may have played a role in the overtime outburst this Easter Sunday.

As the 2022 spring race wound down at Richmond, Truex trailed William Byron by three seconds with 30 to go. He methodically tracked down Byron, but a surging Hamlin on the two-stop strategy passed them both in the closing laps to win the race.

Last year, Truex again battled Byron after late pit stops. The two ran side-by-side when a caution came out. The only tires left in the Truex pit were scuffs, and Truex dropped in the final laps with a tire disadvantage despite having another car capable of winning Richmond.

In the Chastain-centered radio conversation late in this Easter race, the urgency in crew chief James Small’s voice mixed with a bit of panic and defeat in Truex’s reply. After getting beaten the two previous spring races, both Small and Truex had to be feeling the pressure of bringing the victory home this time around.

The late caution only added to the worry of letting another win slip away. Then, the pit crew lost the lead on pit road, throwing frustration into the stirring emotions.

Truex felt he had earned the right to lead and win, but when Hamlin fired off borderline early, anger only grew. That became evident when Truex tossed the car into turn 1 to draw alongside Denny.

Coming to the white flag, the tail of the No. 19 wagged as Truex tried to smash the throttle. Trying with all his might, the tire grip did not reciprocate Truex’s emotion, and he slipped up, opening the door for Logano and all but securing the win for Hamlin. Then, the frustrations really boiled over.

Upset he hadn’t found the bottom, Truex doored Larson down the backstretch, trying to stop the bleeding. Larson returned the favor by running Truex into the fence off the turn.

After the checkered, Truex went after just about anyone and everyone who rolled in front of him in a bit of a race.

Despite the uncharacteristic outburst, Truex had mostly calmed by the time interviews came around. Truex felt used by his teammate, the ultimate boiling point for his frustrations.

Meanwhile, Larson understood Truex’s frustration was not directed at him, but more of a product of the situation.

Truex is one of the most consistent, most fair guys on the racetrack each week. This incident will likely not carry over into future weeks, and MTJ will likely use it as fuel to compete even better in the future.

One thing is for sure: Don’t expect any more mistakes out of Truex for the near future.

Who Stood Out?

The Josh Berry-Rodney Childers combo will be dangerous on short tracks for the foreseeable future. The duo put together a great car for Bristol, foiled only be the tire troubles of that afternoon.

The No. 4 car looked really strong again Sunday night at Richmond, driving from near the back of the field all the way to the second position. More pit troubles befell the team, relegating Berry to the 10th position, but this team should definitely feel confident heading to Martinsville next week, the site of Berry’s first Xfinity Series win.

Chase Elliott deserves a nod this week as well. He started on the front row and led some laps early. After falling back during the course of the race, he moved forward on the final run and utilized overtime to snag his first top-five finish since the Daytona cutoff race last August.

Who Fell Flat?

Early season speed from Spire Motorsports did not carry over to Richmond Sunday night. Of the three drivers, Corey LaJoie had the worst night, consistently running last. LaJoie has shown at tracks with tire wear like Richmond in the past, so the dreadful day certainly came as a surprise.

See also
The Underdog House: NASCAR Underdogs Lay an Egg at Richmond Easter Race

Better Than Last Time?

The last two spring Richmond races have been criminally underrated. The 2022 event featured tire strategy and a pass for the lead in the final laps. Last spring, the track widened out, and guys ran from the wall to the apron. This race had a promising start as well.

Damp track conditions pushed NASCAR to use the wet weather tires, and the racing for the opening 30 laps felt fun and fresh. We still have a lot to learn about these tires, but hopefully NASCAR will continue to learn and become bolder in their use of those tires.

That being said, the night racing and an untimely (and frankly, unwarranted) caution for Kyle Busch messed up tire strategies in stage two, and the rest of the race featured a lack of passing and dirty air.

At times this race felt like an early 2010’s Richmond event and showed potential, but ultimately fell short of the last two spring races here.

Paint Scheme of the Race

The best schemes under the lights Easter Sunday wore red, white, and black. LA Golf joined as a Kaulig Racing sponsor in the Xfinity Series last season. Transitioning to Daniel Hemric’s No. 31 machine, the scheme could have had a better drive, but the ball design chipped in to add some paint scheme points.

What’s Next?

The NASCAR Cup Series stays in Virginia, heading southwest to Martinsville Speedway for the first of two trips this season. The Cook Out 400 begins Sunday, April 7 at 3:00 p.m. ET on FOX.

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Kevin in SoCal

No comments yet? I figured this place would be hopping with disgust towards Hamlin.
I love the conspiracy theories on Facebook, with people saying Wallace spun Larson on purpose so his boss Hamlim could win. It worked out that way, but there’s no way he could plan that far ahead. Too many variables.
Also the theories that Toyota is NASCAR’s favorite. I thought it was Hendrick, based on Daytona. I guess it changes every week depending on who pays them the most bribes, right? LOL

janice

Whomevers check clears the quickest.

Carl D.

Hamlin won the race off pit road and that was it. I really don’t care for the guy, but I don’t know him. I just base my opinion of him on his public persona and how he races other drivers. You don’t have to like him, but there’s no denying he’s a heck of a driver. And a playoff choker.

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