RIDGEWAY, Va. — An opening stage that began with domination by Chip Ganassi Racing at Martinsville Speedway ended with a late caution and Martin Truex Jr. taking the green-checkered flag out front.
Truex survived a three-lap dash to the first stage break of Sunday’s STP 500, set up after a spin by Dale Earnhardt Jr., to notch his fourth stage victory of the season and 10 more championship bonus points.
“I’m definitely proud of that (stage win), because this has not been one of our better race tracks,” Truex admitted after pit stops. “I feel like we’ve been getting better and better each time we come back here with this group, though. I’m really proud of them for the effort they’ve put in and the race car they’ve given me today.”
“We’re just trying to keep up with the race track. I don’t think we’ve had the best car yet … but I think we’re in the hunt. You never know what can happen here.”
Larson led the first 23 laps from the pole, but the handle went away on his Chevrolet and he faded outside the top five as Team Penske rose to the top, with Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano moving into the top two spots on the 24th round and commanding an early green-flag run.
That opening stint was put to a halt on lap 70, however, after Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun in turn three off the bumper of Paul Menard.
Under that caution, both Keselowski (speeding) and Logano (jackman over the wall too soon) were penalized and sent to the rear of the field, while Martin Truex Jr. led the field back to green on lap 77.
It took only 12 laps for five-time Martinsville winner Denny Hamlin to take the lead away, though, and Hamlin led all the way until the pit cycle following McMurray’s crash, when he took two tires while Truex, Johnson, Keselowski and Ty Dillon stayed on the track.
Truex escaped with the lead before another caution with seven to go in the stage, when Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan Blaney got together and Earnhardt spun to draw another caution.
That led to the final three-lap dash to end the stage, in which Truex held off Hamlin’s two tires by 1.215 seconds, after Hamlin moved Keselowski out of the way on the restart.
Kyle Busch finished third ahead of Keselowski and Chase Elliott.
Larson, Blaney, Johnson, Ty Dillon and Clint Bowyer completed the top 10 and the list of points-scoring drivers at the end of stage one.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 22-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
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