Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Is Truex Jr. NASCAR’s most versatile driver?

- Zach Dean

Well, there goes that narrative. We finally got our first repeat winner eight races into the 2021 season, with Martin Truex Jr. ruining the fun for all of us!

After Mother Nature extended her points lead with Friday and Saturday’s washouts, Truex capped Sunday’s Xfinity/Cup doublehead­er with a well-timed pass of Denny Hamlin in the waning laps for his third Martinsvil­le win since 2019. Yes, you read that right.

Truex, the guy who couldn’t buy a short-track win back in the day, now owns three grandfathe­r clocks. Combine that with his out-of-left-field dirt dominance at Bristol last month and roadcourse prowess, and the 40-year-old is making a case that he’s the most wellrounde­d racer in the series.

Just don’t mention those pesky superspeed­ways ...

First gear

How rough was it for Truex on short tracks? Try this stat on for size: After starting his career 0-for-80, he’s now won five of the last 11 short-track races.

Truex broke through at Richmond (twice) and then Martinsvil­le in 2019, and then won again at Martinsvil­le last spring before Sunday’s triumph.

Taking a peak at the calendar, there are three short tracks (Bristol, Richmond and Martinsvil­le) in the playoffs.

Add in the Charlotte Roval — a place where Truex has been very good — and the Phoenix finale, a place where he’s already won this year, and Truex Jr. could be your very early leader in the clubhouse (congrats, Hideki!).

Second gear

In these spaces earlier this year I declared 2021 would be a breakout year for Young Ryan Blaney.

And then, just a few weeks later, I started to panic after a rocky start that saw him finish 30th, 15th and 29th in three straight races.

Well, I’m back on the Blaney train, baby!

Blaney was the dominant car at Martinsvil­le, leading 157 laps only to finish 11th after a pit-road penalty late in the race. Still, he won the first two stages, and had the best long-run car all afternoon.

After leading zero laps with zero top-10 finishes through the first three races, Blaney has now won a race (Atlanta), led 218 laps, and finished no worse than 11th over the past five races.


Third gear

While he was back in the Fox booth on Sunday, it wasn’t the best week off for Jeff Gordon, who confirmed to Sirius NASCAR radio last week that he tested positive for COVID-19 during the off week.

Gordon, the four-time champion and Hall of Famer, said his symptoms were minimal, and that he’d gotten the first shot of the vaccine seven days before his positive test.

“I don’t know if that played a role,” he admitted. “I’m looking forward to getting the final dose of the vaccine. I was very fortunate that, you know, my family, my wife and my kids did not get it, you know?

“So it’s just one of those things where, you know, I’ve just been trying to educate myself and understand it.”

Fourth gear

We can’t close the book on Martinsvil­le without giving a shout-out to Josh Berry, who scored his first career win in Sunday’s Xfinity race.

Berry, driving for JR Motorsport­s car owners Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller, took the lead from Ty Gibbs on Lap 223 and held it the rest of the way to win in just his 13th Xfinity start.

Berry, 30, is the first driver to win an Xfinity race in the No. 8 car since Earnhardt Jr. won at Michigan in 2006.

“Man, I wanted to win so bad for these guys,” Berry said. “This is just unbelievab­le.”

 ?? STEVE HELBER/AP ?? Martin Truex Jr., the guy who couldn’t buy a short-track win back in the day, now owns three grandfathe­r clocks.
STEVE HELBER/AP Martin Truex Jr., the guy who couldn’t buy a short-track win back in the day, now owns three grandfathe­r clocks.

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