Martin Truex Jr., driving the No. 78 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota, continued his big stage performance, winning Sunday night’s coveted Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, the fourth and final crown jewel race of the 2016 season.
Truex also had strong finishes in NASCAR’s three other crown jewels, a close second in the Daytona 500, a victory at the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte on Memorial Day weekend and eighth in the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis, for a four-race average finish of 3.0.
The 0.606-second victory over runner-up Kevin Harvick at the daunting 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval also marked the first time that the Chase-bound Truex has scored multiple wins in a season.
For the single-car, Denver, Colo.-based Furniture Row Racing, it marked the fourth time that it paid a visit to Victory Lane and second time at the Southern 500 (Regan Smith in 2011).
Unlike his dominating victory in the Coca-Cola 600 where he led 392 of 400 laps, Truex's win Sunday was due to a late-race charge and textbook pit stops by the Furniture Row Racing over-the-wall crew.
During the final two trips to pit road in the 367-lap race, Truex’s crew seized the moment with sub 12-second four-tire stops.
“The pit crew was flawless tonight,” said Truex. “They won us the race.”
Driving the throwback No. 78 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota, Truex started eighth and basically never left the top-10 for the entire race. There were some handling issues to contend with, but as the race wore on, Truex started to take command.
Truex led the field from laps 339 to 350 and then retook the lead on lap 352. He never looked back, leading the final 16 laps to secure his fifth career Cup victory.
“Yeah, it’s huge with the Chase coming to get that confidence up, get another win in the pocket and that’s huge for us,” said Truex. “We’ve been one of the fastest, if not the fastest car all summer long and everywhere we’ve been we seemed to have rotten luck, but it was worth having all that bad luck if that’s what it takes to get a Southern 500 trophy. This is a race I always wanted to win. Cole (crew chief Cole Pearn) and the guys were awesome, including everyone at the shop in Denver for once again giving me a fast race car.”
Truex added, “We’ve got to thank Barney Visser, our owner, for putting what he does into this program. Our sponsors Auto-Owners Insurance, Furniture Row, Denver Mattress, Bass Pro Shops, Tracker Boats. This is Auto-Owners Insurance second race with us this year and one more at Martinsville, so really proud to get them in victory lane. Hopefully, they’re pumped up about it and do some more races next year. A big thank you to Toyota and TRD (Toyota Racing Development) and everybody that makes this thing happen – it’s just an amazing partnership, amazing teammates over at Joe Gibbs Racing that we share information with.”
Truex remained eighth in driver points but jumped four positions to sixth in the Chase playoff standings. The final pre-Chase race is Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) Raceway.
Positions third to 10th went to: Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott.
The race had 10 cautions for 52 laps and there were 14 lead changes among eight drivers.
The final pre-Chase race is Saturday night at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway. The 10-race Chase playoff commences Sunday, Sept. 20 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.
Truex Jr. Wins Another Crown Jewel Race
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