Having already secured his spot in the second round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs with a win at Las Vegas last week, Martin Truex Jr. rolled into the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond on Sep. 21 with one simple goal, “to get bonus points.”
Consider it mission accomplished as the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota took the lead with 25 laps remaining and, for the first time in his career, won back-to-back checkered flags as he crossed the finish line 2.630 seconds ahead of teammates Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick to capture his sixth win of the 2019 circuit and another career first, a season sweep of Richmond.
“Man, I don’t know what to say, I really don’t. I’m speechless, just an unbelievable job by all my guys. Toyota, TRD, Bass Pro, Auto Owners, everybody back at the shop, you guys built some unbelievable race cars right now,” Truex Jr. said. “Man, to sweep Richmond finally is pretty awesome, as much as we’ve led here coming into this year, and just thanks to everybody. It’s pretty amazing.”
Unofficially the race ended with a JGR sweep of the top four positions as Erik Jones steered his No. 20 Craftsman Toyota into fourth place but, after failing the post-race inspection due to a rear-wheel alignment issue, he was disqualified and dropped into last place. The disqualification, the first of 2019, put Jones in the position of being the only driver in a must win situation in the third and final race of the first round before the playoff field is whittled from 16 drivers down to 12.
From start to finish the race was essentially a battle between Busch and Truex Jr. as they combined to lead 311 of the 400 laps around the .750 mile short-track oval with Busch holding the lead for the lion’s share with 202 rotations in front of the pack. Brad Keselowski, who started from the pole-position, was the only other driver to move out front, leading the race for the remaining 89 laps before settling for a fourth-place finish.
“It’s definitely not good news. We’ve got work to do. They’re really strong and we’re not where we need to be to be able to beat them heads-up, but we threw everything we had at them,” Keselowski said. “We led 80-some laps, so it’s not a bad day but just not nearly fast enough to dominate the race and win.”
As the series heads to the final race of round one, a combination of oval and road-course racing known as the Roval at Charlotte Motorspeedway on Sep. 29, only three drivers have been locked into the second round, Truex Jr., by virtue of winning both first round races, along with Busch and Harvick, who have both secured their spot via points.
Featuring 17 turns over 2.28 miles the Bank of America 400 Roval is a unique track on the NASCAR circuit that is laid out in a traditional oval style format but with a looping chicane, defined as an artificial narrowing or turn on a road or race course, that cuts into the interior of the oval along the back straightaway.
Dawsonville native Chase Elliott, who started third and finished thirteenth, sits comfortably in the middle of the pack at seventh place, 53 points behind Truex Jr. and 35 points ahead of the bubble. Although not locked into the second round and Elliott’s road course prowess combine with his sixth-place finish at the inaugural running of the Roval in last year’s playoffs bodes well for his chances to advance in the post-season