By AMANDA Vincent
Martin Jr. Truex celebrated his second win of the 2016 season but the first of his career at Darlington (S.C) Raceway on Sunday in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. It also marked Truex’s second “crown jewel race win of the season, as he also won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway in May.
“This is unbelievable,” Truex said. “I’ve always loved this race track. I’ve led a lot of laps, here in my career. Just couldn’t be more excited to win at Darlington. Southern 500 — been wanting to win this thing for a long time.”
On a theowback-themed weekend that saw teams celebrate the past with retro paint schemes and uniforms, Truex provided his team with away to celebrate its first-ever win that game in the 2011 Southern 500 with Regan Smith behind the whhel.
The win wasn’t a throwback to his dominant win at Charlotte earlier this season, though. Sunday at Darlington, Truex didn’t lead until 28 laps remaining in the 367-lap race, but one he took the lead, he never relinquished it.
Kevin Harvick finished second after dominating the race, leading 214 of the 367 laps that made up the race. Kyle Larson finished third, Denny Hamlin was fourth, and Joey Logano was fifth.
“It just doesn’t matter if it isn’t a win,” Logano said. “At this point, I guess momentum means something, so I guess something matters. I disagree that I didn’t have anything for them. I did on the long run. We were the fastest car on the long run every time. We hit a lot of short runs at the end and that would kill us. I lost two or three spots every restart for the first five or six lans, and then it would kick in and off I would go. I was fighting to get them back.”
Harvick started on the pole and dominated throughout the first half of the race, but dropped from first to fifth during a lap 250 caution, losing spots on pit road. He returned to the lead on lap 273 by passing Matt Kenseth. His pit-road woes got worse, though, because of an air gun malfunction during a pit stop under yellow with just under 90 laps to go.
“Our team in the garage did a great job. They brought the fastest race car to the track once again, and we just didn’t do a good job on pit road and gave it away,” Harvick said. “We started 12th and eighth and sixth, and we had a great race car all night. Just got to thank everybody in the shop and in the garage for putting the race cars under us. We can’t just continuously shoot ourselves in the foot every few pit stops.”
Harvick restarted 12th, while Hamlin and Larson restarted the race on the front row. Larson took the lead from Hamlin soon after the restart. Truex also got by Hamlin to take second. By the time the yellow flag waved again with 49 laps remaining, Harvick was back up to fifth.
Ryan Newman and Brad Keselowski restarted the race in the top two positions by staying out during a yellow flag with 40 laps remaining. Keselowski dropped back when the race restarted, but Newman was able to maintain his lead for several laps.
Truex moved into second on the restart and by 25 laps to go, was by Newman for the lead. Two laps later, Harvick took second from Newman. By that time, though, Truex had built a cushion of over three seconds.
That lead was erased by the 10th and final yellow flag on lap 349. Truex and Harvick entered the pits in the top-two spots; they exited in the same order. Larson took second from Harvick on the restart, but Harvick quickly got back by to reclaim the position.
The first half of the race ran clean, with the yellow flag waving only twice, first for a spin by Trevor Bayne on lap 95 and then for an incident between Brian Scott and Casey Mears on lap 114. The yellow flag waved six additional times after lap 200, including one for another incident involving Scott on lap 204. His second incident was a result of contact with Tony Stewart for which NASCAR called Stewart and his crew chief to the NASCAR hauler after the race. Stewart had the opportunity to make that visit prior to the end of the race, retiring from the event early with a blown engine. According to Stewart, debris clogged his radiator, and as a result, his engine ran hot for about 100 laps before finally expiring.
“Overheating was the first part of it, and it finally grenaded,” Stewart said. “It was 375 degrees on water temperature. “There’s a screen in there that keeps all the trash from getting into the radiator, and it got separated from its mount, so all the trash was getting underneath it and going up inside the radiator and it just kept blocking it until we finally lost the motor.”
Finishing sixth through 10th were Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott.