Tampa Bay Times

Truex is year’s first Cup repeat winner

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MARTINSVIL­LE, Va. — Martin Truex Jr. admits to being surprised by his success at Martinsvil­le Speedway.

Truex won a stirring, laps-long duel for the lead with teammate Denny Hamlin in the rain-delayed NASCAR Cup Series race Sunday night, winning for the third time in the last four stops at the 0.526-mile oval, the oldest and shortest in the series.

“This place has become a playground for us, I guess,” Truex said in Victory Lane. “We didn’t have the best car all day, but we just kept working on it and never quit on it.”

Truex, who nudged Hamlin repeatedly in the turns and tried to get to his inside on the straightaw­ays without success, finally made the pass with 15 laps to go, ducking underneath Hamlin coming out of the second turn. He sailed off to victory in the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 without another challenge as Hamlin and Chase Elliott battled the rest of the way for second.

Truex became the first repeat winner in NASCAR’s top series this season.

The race was rained out after 42 laps Saturday night and was completed as the second part of a doublehead­er that started with the completion of the rain-delayed Xfinity Series race from Friday night.

Elliott, who won at Martinsvil­le in the fall on his way to winning last year’s series championsh­ip, held off Hamlin for second. Hamlin was third, followed by William Byron and Kyle Larson.

“That was a lot of fun there at the end, racing with Denny,” Truex said about his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate. “We raced clean, and we were able to come out on top.”

The Gibbs team had all four of its drivers finish in the top 10. Christophe­r Bell took seventh and Kyle Busch 10th. That left team owner Joe Gibbs excited and relieved.

“I was just praying that Denny and Martin didn’t get together running up front,” Gibbs said.

The outcome was not only disappoint­ing for Hamlin, who had a dominant car and led 276 laps, but also for Ryan Blaney, who won the first two stages and led 157 laps but dragged an air gun out of his pit after the final stop and was sent back to 19th in the field. Blaney rallied to finish 11th. Hamlin’s third-place finish was his series-best seventh top-five run in eight races.

Misfortune was the case for Alex Bowman, Brad Keselowski and several others because of a major pileup on the backstretc­h involving more than a dozen cars on Lap 387. Bowman had gotten as high as second before getting caught up in the mess that ended his day, and Keselowski, a two-time winner at Martinsvil­le, also had to call it a day after the wreck.

“It’s just part of the short-track deal,” Keselowski said.

The accident started when Kyle Busch and Chris Buescher got together exiting Turn 2.

Daniel Suarez also was involved and rode around the oval to the entrance to Turn 1, climbed out of his car when it caught fire and walked away as it burst into flames.

XFINITY: Josh Berry has worked for several years as a coach for JR Motorsport­s, working with up-and-coming drivers and enjoying their success as their careers developed. On Sunday, he showed he can do what he tells his pupils to do.

Berry passed star rookie Ty Gibbs with 28 laps to go in the Cook Out 250 at Martinsvil­le Speedway and earned his first career series victory in the completion of a race that started Friday night and was halted because of rain.

“It’s unbelievab­le, man. It really is,” Berry said, adding that his familiarit­y with the track from his short-track career was a source of confidence. “It’s really going to take a while to soak this in.”

That was true for Berry, and also for his boss, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who said on a postrace Zoom call that he was watching the race at home but, “with about 20 to go, I got to where I couldn’t watch it anymore. … I’ve never been so nervous about a finish.”

Earnhardt said he did peek at the TV as the final laps wound down, and once he saw Berry take the white flag with a pretty nice lead, “We cried some happy, happy tears.”

Berry, who has raced in five of the first seven races in the series on a part-time deal with JR Motorsport­s, gave himself enough cushion after getting by Gibbs to withstand challenges by Noah Gragson and Daniel Hemric, who ran out of time trying to navigate lapped traffic.

“I had a good gap that allowed me to be patient and not panic,” said Berry, who made his 13th career start spread over five seasons and eight years.

Hemric was third, followed by Gibbs and Brandon Jones.

 ?? STEVE HELBER | Associated Press ?? Martin Truex Jr. enjoys his third victory in the past four NASCAR Cup Series stops at Martinsvil­le.
STEVE HELBER | Associated Press Martin Truex Jr. enjoys his third victory in the past four NASCAR Cup Series stops at Martinsvil­le.

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