Last week, I called Denny Hamlin’s win at Kansas a statement win.
Martin Truex Jr., I bow to your dominance. If Hamlin’s win was a statement, Truex’s win at Martinsville was a proclamation.
Despite a late charge from first-win seeking William Byron, Truex dominated, leading 464 of the 500 laps, including the final 241, a whopping 92.8 percent of the race.
Truex now will get a chance to race for his second career Cup championship in three weeks at Homestead. That would go nicely with his two career Xfinity Series championships, coming in 2014 and 2015.
We’ll cross that statistical bridge when we get to it. Let’s take a few hundred words or so to reflect on Truex’s win on Sunday, what he’s accomplished so far this season, and more development on the enormous season from Joe Gibbs Racing.
Yeah, it was a butt-kicking kind of day for Truex. It only took him 30 laps to get by pole sitter Denny Hamlin, and from there he led 464 of the final 470 laps.
It was the most laps led for a driver in a victory since Kyle Petty won at Rockingham 27 years and two days before Truex. Petty led 484 of 492 laps that day. Before that, you have to go back to Bobby Allison, who led 486 of 500 laps at Dover in 1982.
But they don’t run 500 laps at Dover anymore, and they don’t run Cup races period at Rockingham now. Besides Bristol and Martinsville, you don’t get a chance to lead up to 500 laps in a race. So we’ll break this down differently.
From a percentage of laps led perspective, since 2006, there have only been four instances of a driver leading more than 92 percent of laps in a race. Two of those have been by Truex, who also pulled it off at the 2016 Coke 600 at Charlotte. The others were Kyle Busch (2018 at Charlotte) and Brad Keselowski (2014 at Richmond).
They’ve also been running at Martinsville since NASCAR’s inaugural season of 1949. In that time, there are a few races without a historical record of laps led, and some in which they didn’t run 500 laps, but the majority of races there have been 500 circuits.
Of those Martinsville races, Truex’s laps led total was the most since Richard Petty led 480 in October 1970, and the fifth-highest single-race total in track history, with a pair of efforts from Fred Lorenzen and one from Junior Johnson joining Richard Petty ahead of Truex.
Earlier this season, Brad Keselowski led 446 laps in his Martinsville win. This is just the third time in Cup history that both Martinsville races in a season had a driver lead 400-plus laps. Rusty Wallace and Ernie Irvan did it in 1993, and Lorenzen did it twice in 1964.
Truex’s three-year reign
In 2017, Truex won eight times and took the championship. Last year, he won a “measly” four times and finished a “pathetic” second in points. Now, he’s back up to seven wins on the season. I took off my socks to tell you that’s 19 wins over three seasons, with three more to go in 2019.
Truex is the first driver to win at least 19 times in a three-season stretch since Jimmie Johnson won 20 from 2008-10, the last three years of his five consecutive championships stretch.
Johnson had other three-year stretches with at least that many wins, but before him, the last driver to have at least 19 wins over a three-season stretch was Jeff Gordon, who had 23 from 1998-2000.
The last driver to do it not in Hendrick equipment was Rusty Wallace, who had 20 wins from 1993-95.
The long and short of it
There are only three short tracks and six races on them in a Cup Series season (tracks specifically under a mile in length), and Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have won the last five of them, getting three wins from Truex and one apiece from Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.
That makes JGR the first team to win five consecutive short track races since, well, JGR itself did it from 2010-11. That was actually a six-race win streak, with three apiece from Hamlin and Busch.
The only other time in the Modern Era (since 1972) that a single team has won at least five straight short-track races came from 1976-77, when Cale Yarborough won eight straight such races for Junior Johnson’s team.