By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
SONOMA, Calif. – What a difference a year makes.
After struggling mightily last year at Sonoma Raceway in the debut season for NASCAR’s Next Gen car, Martin Truex Jr. pulled off a dominating 180-degree turnaround in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350.
Overcoming an inopportune caution and leading a race-high 51 of 110 laps, Truex scored his second victory of the season and his fourth at the 1.99-mile road course, most among active drivers and second only to Jeff Gordon’s five in track history.
Truex’s 33rd career victory, by a 2.979-second margin over runner-up Kyle Busch, was a far cry from last season’s lackluster performance, when Truex started 28th and finished 26th.
“Hats off to my team,” said Truex, who was winless in the 2022 campaign. “To be so bad here last year and to come back and do that with the same car basically, it’s really unbelievable. Just proud of them. We’re having a great year. I feel really good about our team…
“Man, it just feels incredible to have a day like that and a run like that and a team like I have. They’re doing everything right, and it’s a lot of fun to drive these cars… This is why you go through years like we had last year. You just keep fighting. You never give up on it. You always believe in each other.
“We haven’t changed anything on our team other than parts and pieces. It’s just through a lot of hard work of a lot of people.”
On Lap 33, Truex passed Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and pole winner Denny Hamlin for the top spot, after Hamlin led the first 32 laps and won the race’s first stage. For the next 18 laps, it appeared that Truex and Hamlin would deliver a 1-2 punch to the rest of the field.
That was before a tire from Zane Smith’s Ford bounced off the inside pit wall into the middle of pit road on Lap 50. The resulting caution turned the race upside down and handed the lead to Busch, who had pitted seven laps before the yellow.
Busch won the second stage—his second stage victory of the season—but Truex caught the No. 8 Chevrolet on Lap 69, outbraking Busch into Turn 7 and regaining the lead. Truex pitted on Lap 75 but reclaimed the top spot five laps later and held it until Hamlin hit the wall in Turn 12 on Lap 92, ping-ponged between the two frontstretch barriers and broke the right rear toe link on his Toyota.
Chase Elliott, Tyler Reddick and Ryan Blaney stayed out on older tires during the ensuing caution, but Truex made short work of those drivers, retaking the lead off Turn 4 on Lap 97, with Busch following him into the second spot.
Busch chased Truex over the final 14 laps—to no avail.
“I wish we had a little bit more,” said Busch, who won last Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway. “I tried really hard at the end to at least try to keep Martin honest. Felt like I could beat him a little bit on a lap, then I would mess up. He would beat me by a little bit more on the next lap. We were just kind of trading a little bit there. He was able to pull away there late…
“We gave it everything that we had. We made a lot of changes. We got a lucky break there with a yellow with only three laps on tires, so we were able to kind of cycle to the front. Once we got up there, we could maintain pace with some of the good cars and have a good top-three speed race car. Just kind of flip-flopped the race a little bit.
“Good fortunes for us. Nice to come out here with a P2 after a win last week.”
Joey Logano finished third, followed by Chris Buescher and Elliott. AJ Allmendinger, Michael McDowell, Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell and Ross Chastain completed the top 10.
Truex leads the series standings by 13 points over William Byron, who finished 14th. Grant Enfinger came home 26th in relief of Noah Gragson, who missed the race because of concussion symptoms deriving from a hard wreck last Sunday at WWT Raceway.
NASCAR Cup Series Race – Toyota / Save Mart 350
Sunday, June 11, 2023
1. (8) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 110.
2. (12) Kyle Busch, Chevrolet, 110.
3. (17) Joey Logano, Ford, 110.
4. (7) Chris Buescher, Ford, 110.
5. (10) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 110.
6. (5) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 110.
7. (3) Michael McDowell, Ford, 110.
8. (16) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 110.
9. (4) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 110.
10. (15) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 110.
11. (21) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 110.
12. (13) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 110.
13. (22) Ryan Preece, Ford, 110.
14. (26) William Byron, Chevrolet, 110.
15. (14) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 110.
16. (25) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 110.
17. (18) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 110.
18. (6) Ty Gibbs #, Toyota, 110.
19. (11) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 110.
20. (19) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 110.
21. (23) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 110.
22. (9) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 110.
23. (27) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 110.
24. (32) Todd Gilliland, Ford, 110.
25. (34) Austin Cindric, Ford, 110.
26. (35) Grant Enfinger(i), Chevrolet, 110.
27. (36) Harrison Burton, Ford, 110.
28. (20) Aric Almirola, Ford, 110.
29. (24) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 110.
30. (29) Josh Bilicki(i), Chevrolet, 110.
31. (31) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 110.
32. (28) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 109.
33. (2) Tyler Reddick, Toyota, 109.
34. (30) Zane Smith(i), Ford, 109.
35. (33) Andy Lally, Ford, 109.
36. (1) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, Accident, 92.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 81.989 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 40 Mins, 12 Secs. Margin of Victory: 2.979 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 2 for 6 laps.
Lead Changes: 10 among 6 drivers.
Lap Leaders: D. Hamlin 1-32;M. Truex Jr. 33-50;D. Hamlin 51;K. Busch 52-68;M. Truex Jr. 69-74;M. McDowell 75;C. Elliott 76-79;M. Truex Jr. 80-92;R. Chastain 93;C. Elliott 94-96;M. Truex Jr. 97-110.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Martin Truex Jr. 4 times for 51 laps; Denny Hamlin 2 times for 33 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 17 laps; Chase Elliott 2 times for 7 laps; Ross Chastain 1 time for 1 lap; Michael McDowell 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 11,19,20,16,34,45,17,54,48,47
Stage #2 Top Ten: 8,22,1,24,47,3,19,34,20,4