Martin Truex Jr. ended up in a familiar place at the end of 400 laps at Richmond Raceway: Victory Lane.
For the third time in the five races at Richmond, Truex earned the victory and, in doing so, advanced into the second round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Truex was the strongest car in the second half of the race and managed a healthy gap to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin after the final round of green-flag pit stops. While Hamlin was able to cut down Truex’s lead, it wasn’t enough as Truex was still over one second ahead at the checkered flag.
“It’s a big day; it’s an important day in our history,” Truex said of winning on the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. “We’re proud to win, and this car is amazing, and there are so many people to thank. But what a day to win. It reminds you of the honor and the privilege it is to get to come out here and do this.”
Truex led 80 of 400 laps. He rebounded from a penalty at the start of the race when he jumped the initial start and had to serve a pass-through penalty. Truex stayed on the lead lap despite the penalty and was eighth at the end of the first stage.
“That was frustrating; I’m not going to lie,” Truex said. “But I knew we’d have a good enough car to overcome it. It felt pretty good the first couple of laps.”
Truex finished third in the second stage on lap 235. After taking the lead for the second time on the night when driving by Hamlin on lap 269, Truex controlled the rest of the race.
The final round of green-flag pit stops began with less than 60 laps to go. Truex cycled to the lead for the last time with 50 laps to go.
Joe Gibbs Racing finished 1-2-3, with Truex, Hamlin, and Christopher Bell finishing third. Chase Elliott finished fourth, and Joey Logano finished fifth.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) September 12, 2021
Kyle Larson finished sixth, Ross Chastain finished seventh, Kevin Harvick finished eighth, Kyle Busch finished ninth, and Ryan Blaney completed the top 10.
Hamlin led a race-high 197 laps and won both stages. But Truex pitted earlier than Hamlin to have an eight-second lead after the final pit stops.
“Just a couple more (laps),” Hamlin said he needed. “But our pit stops were a little slow there, and we lost about two or three seconds, maybe four, on pit road those two stops, and about a second and a half behind (at the finish). We were coming, just we got off track with our car right there in the middle stages of the race, but overall, Chris [Gabehart] and the team made great adjustments there at the end of the FedEx Camry. Just needed a couple more laps, that’s all.”
Just like the opening playoff race, multiple playoff drivers again had tough nights.
Truex rebounded from his penalty, while Elliott overcame a bad pit stop in the second stage. Elliott was hit in the left-rear by Ross Chastain while entering his pit stall, then backed up thinking he was over the line. However, the jack was already under Elliott’s car, and it broke as he backed up over it and damaged the car during the slow stop.
Larson came from starting in the rear because of multiple inspection failures. Kyle Busch was called for speeding on his final pit stop.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) September 12, 2021
Blaney finished one lap down in 10th. Other playoff drivers who finished one lap down were Alex Bowman in 12th, Brad Keselowski 13th, and Aric Almirola 14th.
Tyler Reddick was two laps down in 15th place. William Byron also finished two laps down in 19th place.
Michael McDowell finished five laps down in 28th place after three speeding penalties. Lastly, Kurt Busch finished last after crashing early in the going.
There were 21 lead changes among eight drivers on Saturday night and five caution flags. Truex joins Hamlin by being locked into the Round of 12. Larson also clinched a spot through points.
Joe Gibbs Racing leads the NASCAR Cup Series in victories at Richmond with 17.