Truex triumphs in dirt debut at Bristol

Truex triumphs in dirt debut at Bristol
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

A 15-year absence from the Camping World Truck Series didn’t seem to matter to Martin Truex Jr. Neither did the 40-year-old racer’s lack of experience driving on dirt.

At Bristol Motor Speedway, Truex became the oldest first-time truck winner with his victory in Monday’s Pinty’s Truck Race on Dirt.

In his two prior truck starts, Truex had never led a lap. Behind the wheel of the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota, Truex dominated the 150-lap feature, leading 105 circuits, and extended his lead over Ben Rhodes by 1.149-seconds at the checkers.

“It’s unbelievable, really,” said Truex, who used the event as a primer for the Food City Dirt Race. “I guess they had to put dirt on Bristol to get me back to Victory Lane here. It’s been a long time. Man, that was a blast.

“I wanted to run this race so I could get more experience with the Cup car, and we got out there in practice and it felt really good. And I was having a lot of fun, so I just kept trying to work with the guys and tell them what I needed. It was really amazing how much the track changed but I will have to say the (No. 51 Tundra) stayed really, really good the whole time.”

Ben Rhodes, Raphael Lessard, Todd Gilliland, Chase Briscoe, Grant Enfinger, Zane Smith, Parker Klingerman, Austin Hill and Austin Wayne Self rounded out the top 10.

Sheldon Creed took the lead from John Hunter Nemechek on the second lap and held the point until Lap 39—through an early race incident involving Chandler Smith, Self and Tyler Ankrum. Truex motored past Creed on the restart for the Stage 1 win.

NASCAR red-flagged the race during the stage breaks for teams to perform service. But 10 laps into Stage 2, Matt Crafton punted points leader Nemechek into the wall to trigger the fourth caution and second red-flag on Lap 50. To add insult to injury, Derek Kraus and Timothy Peters plowed into the No. 4 truck as it sat in Turn 1. That ended the day for Nemechek, who finished 39th.

Truex lined up alongside Rhodes for the Lap 58 restart and returned to the point by the fifth caution on Lap 64. Rhodes gained the lead on the Lap 76 restart, but Truex passed the No. 99 truck again to win the second stage.

Although the race was slowed for 12 cautions over 54 laps, the action was stopped for two additional red-flags. Kyle Larson’s No. 44 Chevy was collected in an incident involving Mike Marlar on Lap 99.

“My spotter said they were slowing down the backstretch, and I saw some trucks slowing on the bottom, so I was running top,”  Larson said. “I thought ‘I’m going to get a lot of spots here in (Turn) 3.’ So I ended up top, and there was somebody parked there.

“We were fighting. Our truck wasn’t very great, but we were making adjustments on it… I still learned something for the Cup race, which was nice…learned how to pass people, so starting in the back, that’s a help.”

Andrew Gordon destroyed the sand barrels in the entrance to pit road when he wiped out in Turn 4 to ignite the 12th and final caution. On the Lap 139 restart, Truex and Rhodes lined up together. Rhodes missed a shift and was forced to battle Lessard for position as Truex increased his advantage over the field.

“We were running them back down there the last few laps, but, yeah, just the worst restart of my life,” Rhodes said. “Early in the race, I had an issue of getting it into fourth gear and missed a shift early on, but I really didn’t think nothing of it and had clean shifts afterward—and then just missed it. Bummer for my guys, but the closest I’ve been to winning here at Bristol was on the dirt.”

Truex became the 35th driver with victories in NASCAR’s top-three tours. After checking the truck win off of his bucket list, Truex believes it’s the last time he’ll run with the series. But he’s hoping the experience will set him up for the Food City Dirt Race.

“I learned a lot,” Truex said. It was really amazing just how much the track changed, but I’ll have to say this thing stayed really, really good the whole time. I think if you’ve got a good car, you are going to be good all day long. It just depends on what they do to the track.

“It’s getting hotter, it’s going to keep drying out and get slicker, so we will see what they do to prep it, but no matter what they do, that was a blast and I’m looking forward to this afternoon.”

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