Tires rubbed and corded all over Martinsville Speedway with few cautions to offer reset relief for the top drivers struggling under the lights Wednesday night.
But Martin Truex Jr. wasn’t fazed despite an early penalty on pit road. The No. 19 driver sailed to his first win of the season at the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500.
“We’ve been working a long time on trying to figure this place out,” Truex Jr. told FOX Sports on the broadcast after the race. He won at the same speedway last fall.
Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski followed in second and third, respectively, at the checkered flag.
NASCAR embraced “new” with the first mid-week evening race at Martinsville and the sanctioning body’s preceding announcement that it would ban the Confederate flag from all events and properties. In that vein, The Observer’s takeaways follow a different format, since teams largely fell into distinct categories.
Joe Gibbs Racing struggled early and was unable to regain solid footing until Truex Jr. settled into the lead with 100 laps to go and ran away with the race. He led Blaney by four seconds 20 laps before the checkered flag.
Still, the Toyota drivers dealt with equipment issues throughout the evening; Kyle Busch reported a brake problem, Denny Hamlin’s car got hot and Erik Jones’ hood suffered damage. With fewer than 50 laps left in Stage 2, Truex Jr. was the highest running driver in 20th while Busch and Hamlin raced two laps down.
Truex Jr. was also the only one who secured early stage points, finishing fourth in Stage 1, and dropping back to the bottom half in Stage 2. He was the team’s saving grace in the short-track race that saw few caution flags.
The Hendrick Chevrolets looked strong, with the team’s highlight coming off Jimmie Johnson’s first stage win of the season in the second stage.