When in Las Vegas, why not gamble?
Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team went with that mindset ahead of overtime Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. It didn’t result in Truex cashing out the winner’s paycheck – he wound up seventh in the Pennzoil 400 – but it still capped off a solid day.
The No. 19 was running fourth when the final caution of the afternoon flew with four laps to go. Instead of coming down pit road for at least two tires as most of the leaders elected, crew chief James Small kept his driver on track, and Truex lined up the leader for overtime.
Truex was admittedly “not very confident” in the call. Although four tires had been the call all day for Cup Series teams, Denny Hamlin taking two tires at the start of the third stage showed the field it was possible to gain and hang on to track position.
It worked for them for one lap. Truex restarted on the bottom and held strong side-by-side with William Byron, the dominant driver of the day, until Byron cleared him at the white flag. Truex then faded into traffic on the final lap as the fresher tires paid off for those around him.
“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 I got real tight in (Turns) 1 and 2 and got freight-trained down the backstretch.
“But all in all, it was a good gamble and a strong day by our Bass Pro Camry and all of our guys. At the end, we just took a gamble. 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.”
Truex paced the field for three laps in the Pennzoil 400, which came from the decision to stay on the racetrack. Although he had a strong top-10 car throughout the afternoon, he was never a serious challenger for the win, as the Chevrolet teams trounced the competition all afternoon.
Byron led a 1-2-3 finish for Hendrick Motorsports. Truex was the third Toyota driver to finish in the top 10 behind Bubba Wallace (fourth) and Christopher Bell (fifth).
“It was a solid day for our Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry TRD, and everybody did a good job,” Truex said. “We could never quite get it where we need it. I think we were about a third-place car, maybe fourth. Just a good, solid day.
“We’re in Vegas, we might as well roll the dice and like everybody says. We come here to gamble. I was proud of James for that. Last year we didn’t and it bit us. We gave up a few spots (today), but all in all, it was a solid day.”