Truex snaps winless drought, records first Cup victory of 2021 at Phoenix

The 29-race winless drought for Martin Truex Jr. and Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 19 Toyota team came to an end under the afternoon sun in the desert state of Phoenix, Arizona, after the 40-year-old veteran from Mayetta, New Jersey, rallied from an early scrape in the wall to prevail on a restart with 25 laps remaining and over Joey Logano to win the Instacart 500 at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, March 14. 

The starting lineup was based on a performance metric formula, weighing the driver’s and owner’s results from a previous Cup event, the owner points position and the fastest lap recorded from a previous Cup race. With that, Brad Keselowski started on pole position. Kyle Larson, winner of last weekend’s event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, was due to start on the front row with Keselowski, but ended up dropping to the rear of the field due to his car failing pre-race inspection twice. As a result, Christopher Bell moved up to the front row.

Along with Larson, teammate William Byron and Cody Ware dropped to the rear of the field due to their respective machines also failing pre-race inspection twice. Chase Elliott and Quin Houff also dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments along with Garrett Smithley, his case due to a driver change.

When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Keselowski was able to jump ahead with a strong lead, even as he went low through the dogleg and entering Turn 1, followed by Denny Hamlin, who overtook teammate Christopher Bell for the runner-up spot. 

Following the first lap, Keselowski was the leader followed by four Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota competitors led by Hamlin. The following lap, however, Hamlin was able to move his No. 11 Offerpad Toyota Camry into the lead.

By the fifth lap, Hamlin was ahead by more than half a second over Keselowski, who was soon overtaken by Bell for the runner-up spot. Truex remained in fourth place ahead of teammate Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney. 

Five laps later and through the first 10 laps of the event, Hamlin stabilized his lead by half a second over teammate Bell while Keselowski, Truex and Blaney were in the top five. Kyle Busch fell back to sixth followed by brother Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Matt DiBenedetto.

The following lap, Truex’s No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry made contact with the outside wall exiting Turn 1 and entering the backstretch, which allowed Blaney to overtake him for fourth place. 

By Lap 20, Hamlin extended his advantage to more than a second over Bell’s No. 20 Rheem Toyota Camry while Team Penske’s Keselowski, Blaney and Logano were in the top five. Truex remained in sixth place while the Busch brothers battled for seventh place. Stenhouse was in ninth followed by DiBenedetto while Kevin Harvick was in 11th. 

When the competition caution flew on Lap 30, Hamlin remained in the lead followed by Keselowski, teammate Blaney, Bell and Logano. Kurt Busch and Stenhouse were in sixth and seventh while Truex fell back to eighth. Harvick was in ninth while Kyle Busch dropped back to 10th in front of DiBenedetto. By then, Kyle Larson was in 14th behind Austin Dillon and teammates William Byron and Chase Elliott were in 20th  and 21st behind teammate Alex Bowman and Bubba Wallace, who was making his 250th NASCAR national touring series career start.

Under caution, the leaders pitted and Keselowski exited pit road with the lead over Bell, Blaney, Harvick, Hamlin and Truex. Following the pit stops, Larson was sent to the rear of the field for speeding on pit road. 

The race restarted on Lap 36 with Keselowski and Bell on the front row. At the start, Keselowski retained the lead followed by teammate Blaney. Bell dropped back to third followed by teammate Hamlin and Logano.

On Lap 44, Blaney emerged with the lead after overtaking teammate Keselowski through the backstretch and coming back to the start/finish line. By then, Bell was still in third followed by Logano, Hamlin and Harvick.

Shortly after, the caution returned when Bowman, who checked up behind Ross Chastain and made contact with him, was hit by Austin Dillon and spun as his No. 48 Ally/Best Friends Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE made light contact with the outside wall in Turn 1. The accordion effect nearly collected Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace, Corey LaJoie and rookie Chase Briscoe. 

Under caution, some like Kyle Busch, Byron, DiBenedetto, Chastain, Austin Dillon, Bubba Wallace, Michael McDowell, Elliott, Larson, Bowman, Ryan Newman, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Preece, Justin Haley and rookie Anthony Alfredo pitted while the rest led by Blaney remained on the track. During the pit stops, Austin Dillon was penalized for speeding on pit road.

The race restarted on Lap 50 with teammates Blaney and Keselowski on the front row. At the start, Blaney utilized the dogleg to remain in the lead. Teammate Keselowski, racing in his No. 2 Wurth Ford Mustang, remained in second while teammate Logano battled Bell for third in front of Hamlin. 

By Lap 60, the three Penske competitors were out in front led by Blaney. Behind, Hamlin was in fourth while Chase Elliott, racing on fresh tires in his No. 9 UniFirst Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, moved up to fifth ahead of Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Stanley Toyota Camry. Bell fell back to seventh in front of Harvick while Byron, another competitor on fresh tires, was in ninth ahead of DiBenedetto, Kurt Busch, Truex, Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Tyler Reddick. 

Ten laps later and through the first 70 laps of the event, Blaney’s No. 12 Menards/Richmond Water Heaters Ford Mustang continued to lead by nearly three-tenths of a second over teammate Logano’s No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang. Keselowski, meanwhile, was pressured by Hamlin for third place as Elliott joined the battle. Kyle Busch, Harvick, Byron, teammate Larson and DiBenedetto were in the top 10 while Bell fell back to 11th.

With the laps in the first stage closing, the battle for the lead heated up as Blaney came under fire from teammates Logano and Keselowski with Hamlin and Elliott scrambling in the battle. Despite nearly losing the lead to teammate Logano, Blaney was able to hold on ahead of a five-car battle and claim the first stage victory on Lap 75. In claiming his first stage victory of this season, Blaney also became the seventh different competitor to record a stage victory through the first five Cup events of the 2021 season. Logano settled in second followed by teammate Keselowski, Hamlin and Elliott. Kyle Busch settled in sixth followed by Harvick, Byron, teammate Larson and DiBenedetto. 

Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Logano emerged with the lead after exiting pit road with the top spot followed by teammate Blaney Hamlin, Elliott, Keselowski and Larson.

The second stage started on Lap 83 with teammates Logano and Blaney on the front row. At the start and with the field fanning out through the dogleg, Logano retained the lead followed by Blaney while Elliott muscled his way into third place entering the backstretch. Keselowski and Hamlin battled for fourth followed by Larson and Harvick. Behind, Byron and DiBenedetto battled for eighth as Kyle Busch joined the battle. 

Six laps later, the caution returned for an on-track accident involving Cody Ware and rookie Anthony Alfredo, who wrecked into the Turn 2 outside wall following contact from Ware and sustained heavy damage to his No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford Mustang.

Under caution, some like Kurt Busch, Erik Jones, Briscoe, Chris Buescher, Cole Custer, McDowell, Preece, Haley and James Davison pitted while the rest led by Logano remained on the track.

Following an extensive caution as a result of Alfredo’s incident, the race resumed under green on Lap 98 with teammates Logano and Blaney remaining on the front row. At the start and with the field fanning out through the dogleg again, Logano retained the lead followed by teammates Blaney and Keselowski while Hamlin was in fourth ahead of Elliott, Kyle Busch and Byron.

Two laps later and through the Lap 100 mark, Logano was scored the leader followed by teammate Blaney and Keselowski. Elliott overtook Hamlin for fourth and went to work on Keselowski for more. Teammates Hamlin and Kyle Busch were in fifth and sixth while Larson moved up to seventh ahead of teammate Byron. Bell and Harvick were in the top 10. 

By Lap 110, Logano continued to lead by more than half a second over teammate Blaney while Elliott settled in third. Keselowski was in fourth while Larson, racing in his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, prevailed over a battle with Hamlin to move into the top five.

By Lap 120, Logano extended his advantage to less than two seconds over teammate Blaney. Elliott retained third place while teammate Larson moved into fourth place. Keselowski was back in fifth ahead of Hamlin, Harvick, Kyle Busch, teammate Truex and Byron. 

Not long after, Larson continued to flex his muscles after overtaking teammate Elliott for third place. By then, he was less than four seconds behind race leader Logano. In addition, Keselowski started to close in on Elliott for position along with Hamlin.

By Lap 130, Logano was leading by more than three seconds over Larson, who earlier overtook Blaney for the runner-up spot. Keselowski moved up to fourth followed by Hamlin while Elliott fell back to sixth. Truex started to close in on Elliott for the sixth spot while Harvick, Byron and Aric Almirola were in the top 10. Bell and teammate Kyle Busch were in 11th and 12th followed by DiBenedetto, Briscoe, Bowman and Wallace. Kurt Busch was mired in 17th followed by Tyler Reddick, Erik Jones and Stenhouse.

Nearing the Lap 140 mark, pit stops under green started to occur as Keselowski pitted followed by Harvick, Elliott, Logano, teammate Blaney, Kurt Busch, Bowman, Stenhouse, Truex, Byron, Almirola, Erik Jones, Buescher, Cole Custer, Hamlin, teammate Bell, teammate Kyle Busch, Larson and Briscoe. Following the pit stops, Larson was busted with a second pit road speeding penalty. Kyle Busch was also penalized due to an uncontrolled tire violation.

By Lap 150 and with most of the leaders completing pit stops under green, Corey LaJoie, who has yet to pit, was scored the leader. Logano was in second followed by teammate Blaney, Truex, Keselowski and Hamlin. 

At the halfway mark on Lap 156, Logano reassumed the lead from LaJoie. Blaney, Truex and Keselowski were in the top five followed by Hamlin, Harvick, Byron, teammate Elliott and Bell. By then, Larson was back in 22nd, still on the lead lap and in front of Daniel Suarez and Bubba Wallace, while Kyle Busch was in 30th, the sixth car scored a lap behind the leaders.   

Through the first 175 laps of the event, Logano stabilized his advantage to more than three seconds over Truex. Teammates Blaney and Keselowski were in third and fourth followed by Hamlin. Harvick was in sixth while Byron, teammate Elliott, Almirola and Bell were in the top 10. By then, Larson was back in 17th and still on the lead lap while Kyle Busch was in 28th, the sixth car scored a lap down. Meanwhile, LaJoie, still on the track on old tires but with enough fuel to complete the second stage, was scored in the top 15.

With the laps in the second stage closing, Logano continued to lead by approximately two seconds over Truex while Hamlin and Blaney battled for third place. Keselowski stabilized himself in fifth place followed by Harvick, Byron, teammate Elliott, Almirola and Bell. 

While Truex was able to decrease his deficit to Logano to, Logano was able to retain the lead and navigate his way through lapped traffic to claim the Stage 2 victory on Lap 190. In claiming his first stage victory of the season, Logano also became the eighth different competitor to record a stage victory through the first five events of the 2021 Cup season. Hamlin was scored in third place behind teammate Truex while Keselowski managed to overtake teammate Blaney for fourth place. Harvick, Byron, Almirola, Elliott and Bell were scored in the top 10. By then, Larson moved back up to 13th ahead of Kurt Busch while Kyle Busch was in 27th, two laps behind.

Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Logano retained the lead after exiting pit road in first followed by Hamlin, Truex, Blaney, Keselowski and Harvick. Following the pit stops under caution, Almirola, Elliott and Ross Chastain were penalized for speeding on pit road.

With 113 laps remaining, the final stage commenced with Logano and Hamlin on the front row. At the start, Logano nearly got turned after being bumped by Truex, but he retained the lead through the dogleg and entering Turn 1. Behind, Hamlin and Keselowski battled for the runner-up spot through the backstretch while Blaney retained fourth ahead of Harvick, Byron and Truex. Behind, Larson moved up to eighth followed by Erik Jones and Stenhouse. 

With 110 laps remaining, Logano was ahead by nearly six-tenths of a second over Hamlin followed by teammates Blaney and Keselowski with Truex moving back into fifth over Byron. By then, Larson moved up to seventh over Bell, Harvick and Stenhouse. Meanwhile, Wallace was in 11th ahead of Jones and Kurt Busch.

Down to the final 100 laps of the event, Logano was leading by approximately a second over Hamlin. Blaney, Truex and Keselowski stabilized themselves in the top five followed by Byron, racing in his No. 24 AXALTA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. Larson was in seventh followed by Harvick, Bell and Stenhouse. Behind, Wallace, Jones, Briscoe, Kurt Busch and Bowman were running in the top 15. Almirola and Elliott, following their late pit road penalties, were in 18th and 20th while Kyle Busch was mired back in 24th, a lap behind.

With 88 laps remaining, Truex gained a huge run entering the backstretch to emerge as the new leader over Logano. As Hamlin remained in third followed by Keselowski, Larson fought his way back into the top five after passing Blaney. 

Eight laps later and with 80 laps remaining, Truex was leading by more than a second over Logano. Hamlin, Keselowski and Larson remained in the top five followed by Blaney, Harvick, Bell, Byron and Bubba Wallace, who overtook Stenhouse for position.

Down to the final 70 laps of the event, Truex extended his advantage to more than three seconds over Logano, who also had Hamlin starting to close in on him for the runner-up spot. Keselowski was still in fourth, trailing by less than five seconds, while Larson remained in fifth, trailing by more than five seconds. Blaney and Bell battled for sixth followed by Harvick, Wallace and Byron.

Under the final 65 laps of the event, Byron made a pit stop under green. By then, Truex stretched his advantage to more than five seconds over teammate Hamlin, thus dropping Logano to third. Keselowski, Larson and Bell were in fourth, fifth and sixth while Wallace continued to his impressive run to the front as he was scored in seventh. 

Shortly after, Logano and Larson pitted under green. Blaney soon pitted along with Keselowski, Elliott, Bell, Almirola, Wallace, Reddick, Ryan Newman, leader Truex and others.

With 55 laps remaining and the leaders completing service under green, Truex was back out in front by nearly two seconds over Larson. Hamlin was in third followed by teammates Logano and Keselowski. Bell and Harvick were in sixth and seventh followed by Blaney, Byron and Wallace. 

Behind, Kyle Busch, racing on old tires, made contact with the outside wall while scored in 14th. Despite the incident, the race remained under green as Busch pitted for fresh tires and dropped out of the lead lap category. 

With 50 laps remaining, the caution flew when Reddick made contact with the outside wall in Turn 2 after cutting a right-front tire.

Under caution, nearly all of the leaders returned to pit road and Logano muscled his way back into the lead following a stellar service from his No. 22 pit crew. Truex exited in second place followed by Truex, Keselowski, Larson and Hamlin. On track, though, Wallace did not pit for fresh tires and emerged as the leader. Following the pit stops, Briscoe was busted with a pit road speeding penalty.

With 44 laps remaining, the race restarted under green with Wallace and Logano on the front row. At the start, Wallace and Logano made contact as the field fanned out to three lanes through the dogleg. Through Turn 1, Keselowski managed to prevail in a three-wide battle to take the lead followed by teammate Logano. Wallace remained in third followed by Truex while Larson, Hamlin and Byron battled for fifth. 

With 40 laps remaining, teammates Keselowski and Logano battled for the lead while Truex trailed by more than a second. Truex, Larson and Hamlin were in the top five while Wallace was trying to hang on in sixth while battling Hamlin and Harvick.

Two laps later, Logano used the infield dogleg on the frontstretch to reassume the lead over teammate Keselowski. 

With 31 laps remaining, Logano extended his advantage to over a second over teammate Keselowski and Truex. Just as Truex was able to take over the runner-up spot, the caution returned the following lap when teammate Kyle Busch, the first competitor scored a lap down, spun across the start/finish line after receiving a tap from Ross Chastain. At the time of caution, Wallace had fallen back to 16th on old tires. 

Under caution, the leaders returned to pit road and Logano retained the lead following another stellar pit stop followed by Truex, teammate Hamlin, Keselowski, Larson and Harvick.

With 25 laps remaining, the race restarted under green with Logano and Truex on the front row. At the start, Logano went super low through the dogleg, Truex remained on the outside lane and the field fanned out to multiple lanes.

Back to the start/finish line, Truex reassumed the lead over Logano followed by Hamlin, who was locked in a battle with Keselowski and Larson. Teammate Elliott was back up in sixth followed by Almirola, Byron, Harvick and Bell. 

With 20 laps remaining, Truex was leading by nearly half a second over Logano while Hamlin and Keselowski were in third and fourth. Teammates Larson and Elliott battled for fifth in front of their other teammate William Byron. Harvick was in eighth followed by teammate Almirola and Bell. Blaney was in 11th in front of Bowman, Kurt Busch was in 14th and Wallace was in 17th in between Cole Custer and Austin Dillon.

Five laps later, Truex extended his advantage to a second over Logano with Hamlin trailing behind. Keselowski was locked in a battle with Larson for fourth while Elliott settled in sixth. Harvick, meanwhile, overtook Byron for seventh while Bell and Blaney were in the top 10. Earlier, Custer made a pit stop under green after making contact with the wall with help from Wallace.

Down to the final 10 laps of the event, Truex remained in the lead by more than a second over Logano. Hamlin settled in third, nearly two seconds behind, followed by Keselowski. Elliott, meanwhile, managed to move into the top five while Larson was locked in a battle with Harvick for sixth place. 

With five laps remaining, Truex continued to lead by more than a second over Logano with Hamlin trailing by two seconds. By then, Harvick prevailed over Larson for sixth place while Keselowski and Elliott remained in the top five. 

Utilizing the final laps to his favor in cruise control and with a respectable lead of over a second over Logano, Truex was able to take the white flag, navigate his No. 19 Toyota Camry through the circuit smoothly for a final time and come back around to claim his first checkered flag of the season and become the fifth different winner through the first five Cup races of the 2021 season. 

The victory was Truex’s 28th of his Cup career, moving him to a tie with Carl Edwards and Rex White for 28th place on the all-time Cup wins list, and first at Phoenix as he also claimed his first Cup victory since June 2020 at Martinsville Speedway. In addition, crew chief James Small claimed his second career victory while Joe Gibbs Racing claimed Cup career win No. 187.

“Just an awesome job by everybody, James [Small], [car chief] Blake [Harris] and all the pit crew guys fixing it,” Truex said on FOX. “Really solid. I thought at the beginning of the race, we were gonna run 15th or so. Man, I can’t really believe it, I’m speechless. This feels pretty amazing. Phoenix has been a tough one for us and to come here and win this, I wish it was November, but hopefully we can come back here in November and have a shot at being in the Final Four. Man, just so thankful and so proud of everybody at JGR and everybody who makes this possible.”

Logano settled in second place for the second time this early in the season while Hamlin finished third and claimed his fourth top-five result through the first five events of this season.

“All of the above, just a little bit everywhere is where it seemed [Truex] beat us,” Logano said on MRN. “Once they got [Truex] tuned in, he was the fastest car on the racetrack. We did a good job maximizing our day with our Shell/Pennzoil Mustang. We were a second-place car and finished second, won a stage and second in the other stage, so a lot of points. I hate finishing second, though. It really stinks, but, overall, this has been a good racetrack for us. The last few times we’ve been here is first, third and second, so we’re all over it, just needed that last run not to have a caution. I think we were in a pretty good spot to maybe run that thing out, but, overall, that was where we had it.”

“Yeah, I think we are happy with [the finish]. Obviously, we want to win with our Offerpad Toyota but certainly the short tracks is something we want to put a lot of emphasis on this year. We just didn’t have the results on the short tracks that we wanted last year, but getting the first short track win here for JGR – 1, 3 is a good sign that we worked on the right things and we are headed in the right direction.”

Keselowski finished fourth for his third top-five result in four races while Elliott rounded out the top five at Phoenix, which marked his best result since finishing in second place in this year’s Daytona 500. Harvick, Larson, teammate Byron, Bell and Blaney completed the top 10 on the track.

Almirola rallied from his slow start to the season by finishing 11th followed by Stenhouse, Bowman, DiBenedetto and Kurt Busch. Wallace posted a 16th-place result in front of Austin Dillon, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez finished 20th and 21st, rookie Chase Briscoe finished 22nd in front of Michael McDowell and Kyle Busch ended his long afternoon in 25th.

There were 22 lead changes for eight different leaders. The race featured seven cautions for 45 laps. 

Denny Hamlin continues to lead the regular-season standings 39 points over Brad Keselowski, 44 over Logano, 56 over Truex, 57 over Larson and Elliott and 60 over Harvick. 

Results.

1. Martin Truex Jr., 64 laps led

2. Joey Logano, 143 laps led, Stage 2 winner

3. Denny Hamlin, 33 laps led

4. Brad Keselowski, 19 laps led

5. Chase Elliott

6. Kevin Harvick

7. Kyle Larson, one lap led

8. William Byron

9. Christopher Bell

10. Ryan Blaney, 35 laps led, Stage 1 winner

11. Aric Almirola

12. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., one lap led

13. Alex Bowman

14. Matt DiBenedetto

15. Kurt Busch

16. Bubba Wallace, four laps led

17. Austin Dillon

18. Chris Buescher

19. Ross Chastain

20. Erik Jones

21. Daniel Suarez

22. Chase Briscoe

23. Michael McDowell

24. Justin Haley

25. Kyle Busch, one lap down

26. Ryan Preece, one lap down

27. Corey LaJoie, one lap down, 12 laps led

28. Ryan Newman, one lap down

29. Tyler Reddick, two laps down

30. B.J. McLeod, three laps down

31. Cole Custer, four laps down

32. Quin Houff, seven laps down

33. James Davison, nine laps down

34. Garrett Smithley, 12 laps down

35. Josh Bilicki – OUT, Power steering

36. Cody Ware – OUT, Accident

37. Anthony Alfredo – OUT, Accident

38. Timmy Hill – OUT, Engine

The NASCAR Cup Series will return to the south to compete at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the first of two visits to the track for the series this season, on Sunday, March 21. The event is slated to occur at 3 p.m. on FOX.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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Andrew Kim
An avid motorsports enthusiast from California with aspirations of working in any form of communications, PR or digital/social media in motorsports.

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