Martin Truex Jr. now has thrice as many wins as any other driver in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season. He dominated Sunday’s Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway by leading 248 of 293 laps and fended off a late run by Kyle Larson to win his third race of the year.
The non-throwback car of Brad Keselowski started on the pole ahead of Kevin Harvick in a livery emulating his car from his Cup début in 2001. Aric Almirola was sent to the rear for failing pre-race inspection twice, while Chase Elliott did so for unapproved adjustments as his team removed a packer that they neglected to remove until after inspection.
Almirola’s day quickly came to an end after just six laps when he was clipped by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and slammed into the inside wall on the backstretch. The retirement and last-place finish continues a difficult season for him as he has just one top ten across the first twelve races and sits twenty-eighth in points after never being lower than twentieth at any point since joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018. His team-mate Harvick took the lead from Keselowski a lap before his wreck.
The restart came on lap 12 as Kyle Busch jumped past Keselowski for second. After two laps of chasing, Busch rode the inside line into the lead. On lap 21, as Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate Truex was passing him for the lead, he hit the turn three wall his rear tyres went down and caused him to spin. The ensuing yellow served as the competition caution.
Truex and Harvick led the field to the lap 30 green flag. The pit cycle began thirty laps later as Tyler Reddick briefly inherited the lead after Truex pitted. Ross Chastain was next to assume the position and elected to stay out with the plan of preserving a set of tyres for later use, a strategy that ultimately led to him falling a lap down after Truex closed out the cycle. He retook the lead on lap 72 and drove to the stage win.
JGR team-mate Denny Hamlin finished second ahead of Reddick, Larson, Harvick, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Elliott, William Byron, and Alex Bowman. All ten stage points-receiving drivers boasted a throwback scheme, with Truex’s honouring his previous team Furniture Row Racing.
Larson suffered a speeding penalty between stages and the race resumed with Truex and Hamlin leading.
Shortly after the start, Anthony Alfredo hit Cole Custer and sent him into the backstretch wall. Kurt Busch was the next victim when he spun on the frontstretch after contact with Bubba Wallace; the latter’s role in the incident resulted in him not receiving the free pass from NASCAR.
Hamlin was the leader for the restart on lap 115 after staying out before Truex claiemd the spot. The next green-flag stops commenced on lap 140, during which Josh Bilicki exited the race with a mechanical issue. Truex pitted on lap 144 which allowed Chris Buescher, Harvick, and Christopher Bell to lead laps. Keselowski had to pit again for a flat tyre.
Upon reclaiming the top spot, Truex led to the finish yet again. Kyle Busch, Byron, Hamlin, Larson, Bell, Logano, Reddick, Blaney, and Buescher also recorded top-ten stage finishes. Bell and Buescher were the only such drivers without a historic paint scheme.
Austin Dillon sped on pit road and was penalised for the start of the final stage.
Truex continued to lead for much of the final stage until the next set of stops under green began. Busch briefly led before Truex was back on top. Bowman suffered a left-rear tyre rub that forced him to return to pit road, a similar fate that plagued Michael McDowell‘s left-front.
On lap 240, Larson overtook Busch for second. The final pit cycle opened on lap 255 with Larson and others pitting; Logano received a speeding penalty on his stop. Truex hit pit road a lap later and returned to first.
Larson continued to chase down Truex, with lapped traffic assisting him in narrowing the gap. Despite his efforts, including making a pass between Reddick and Ryan Newman, he was unable to catch Truex as the latter scored his third win of the year. It is his second win at Darlington and first since 2016.
He is also the first driver to win a stage and the race at Darlington since segments were introduced in 2017.
“I’m glad I could do that,” Truex told FS1. Incidentally, his interviewer was former Furniture Row driver Regan Smith, who won the team’s maiden Cup race at Darlington in 2011. “We’ve won a bunch of stages here in the past couple of years. It’s always just Lady Luck got us. It’s track position, it’d be one thing or the other. […]
“I think this flat black’s a throwback to you, Regan, when you won here. Really cool throwback to Furniture Row and hopefully (FRR owner) Barney Visser‘s out there watching.”
Among the key takeaways for fans and media revolved around the race utilising the 750-horsepower, low-downforce aero package for the race, which drivers noted provided a more challenging and welcome driving experience than the 550-hp, high-downforce counterpart used at other events. Bilicki tweeted in the evening that it “is the package we need to be racing every weekend. Despite some bad luck and losing laps in the garage, this was the most fun I’ve had driving a Cup car in a while.”
“I love low downforce, that’s all I’m going to say. I love it,” Truex said in his post-race press conference. “I feel like especially this year, all three races we won (Phoenix and Martinsville) have been with this package, so obviously the guys and girls at JGR are doing a great job. But for me, you look at ’16, ’17, ’18, low downforce, we very well could have won all three championships. We were right there in all three and won a lot of races.
“Big fan of this kind of racing. Really enjoy it. Today was a heck of a challenge. I did come on the radio one time and say I’m really surprised how slow it feels and how slick it is. I was leading and driving away from the field, and I’m like, ‘This thing is sliding everywhere.’ It’s pretty amazing just how much this track changes year to year every time we come back. It gets more difficult with the wear of the pavement.”
After settling for second, Larson was just as positive as he described the setup as “a lot of fun. I don’t remember honestly how the high downforce was because I didn’t get to run here last year, but it was fun to be here during the day, my first daytime Cup race here, so it was cool to do that, and yeah, had a lot of fun slipping and sliding.”
|1||4||19||Martin Truex Jr.||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||293||Running|
|2||14||5||Kyle Larson||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||293||Running|
|3||3||18||Kyle Busch||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||293||Running|
|4||5||24||William Byron||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||293||Running|
|5||7||11||Denny Hamlin||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||293||Running|
|6||2||4||Kevin Harvick||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||293||Running|
|7||6||9||Chase Elliott||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||293||Running|
|8||16||12||Ryan Blaney||Team Penske||Ford||293||Running|
|9||11||17||Chris Buescher||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||293||Running|
|10||20||6||Ryan Newman||Roush Fenway Racing||Ford||292||Running|
|11||22||14||Chase Briscoe||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||292||Running|
|12||10||8||Tyler Reddick||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||292||Running|
|13||12||22||Joey Logano||Team Penske||Ford||292||Running|
|14||21||20||Christopher Bell||Joe Gibbs Racing||Toyota||292||Running|
|15||18||42||Ross Chastain||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet||291||Running|
|16||9||3||Austin Dillon||Richard Childress Racing||Chevrolet||291||Running|
|17||19||48||Alex Bowman||Hendrick Motorsports||Chevrolet||291||Running|
|18||26||43||Erik Jones||Richard Petty Motorsports||Chevrolet||291||Running|
|19||8||21||Matt DiBenedetto||Wood Brothers Racing||Ford||290||Running|
|20||28||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||290||Running|
|21||23||23||Bubba Wallace||23XI Racing||Toyota||290||Running|
|22||30||7||Corey LaJoie||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||290||Running|
|23||15||99||Daniel Suárez||Trackhouse Racing Team||Chevrolet||290||Running|
|24||1||2||Brad Keselowski||Team Penske||Ford||290||Running|
|25||29||37||Ryan Preece||JTG Daugherty Racing||Chevrolet||290||Running|
|26||25||38||Anthony Alfredo||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||289||Running|
|27||13||34||Michael McDowell||Front Row Motorsports||Ford||288||Running|
|28||31||77||Justin Haley*||Spire Motorsports||Chevrolet||288||Running|
|29||34||53||J.J. Yeley*||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||286||Running|
|30||35||00||Quin Houff||StarCom Racing||Chevrolet||286||Running|
|31||36||15||James Davison||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||286||Running|
|32||32||78||B.J. McLeod*||Live Fast Motorsports||Ford||285||Running|
|33||37||52||Josh Bilicki||Rick Ware Racing||Ford||245||Running|
|34||33||51||Cody Ware*||Rick Ware Racing||Chevrolet||188||Driveshaft|
|35||17||1||Kurt Busch||Chip Ganassi Racing||Chevrolet||106||Accident|
|36||24||41||Cole Custer||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||97||Accident|
|37||27||10||Aric Almirola||Stewart-Haas Racing||Ford||5||Accident|
* – Ineligible for Cup points