MARTIN TRUEX JR. ON HIS WAY TO PULLING OFF A PSYCH-JOB WIN OVER KEVIN HARVICK AND CLINT BOWYER.
SONOMA, CALIFORNIA: Toyota driver Martin Truex won the Toyota/Save Mart 350 today at Sonoma Raceway, and did so in a resounding manner, having coasted over the finish line some 12+ seconds over 2nd-place finisher and Ford driver Kevin Harvick, with Harvick's Stewart-Haas teammate Clint Bowyer coming in 3rd.
Truex, driver of the #78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota, might have finished the race a bit further ahead of 2nd and 3rd, but backed off as he approached turns 10 and 11 of the final lap as he came up upon two backmarkers jostling their cars for a position somewhere way down the scoring ladder, fighting like a pair of idiot children over who would get to ride in the front seat of Dad's car, with Truex being told by his spotter to back off and let them fight it out.
Even after backing off, he still finished well ahead of 2nd and 3rd.
The reason for Truex's monster lead?
An awesome pit-road fake-out, which got the race leader at the time, Kevin Harvick, the driver of the Mobil 1 #4 Ford Fusion, to pit early, with 37 laps still to go.
Harvick used a similar strategy at Sonoma (minus the fake-out part) to win this event last year, where he stopped rather early in the last stage of the race, and used a tire-conservation strategy to pass race leader Brad Keselowski, and stay ahead of #14 teammate Clint Bowyer.
It appeared that Truex, who was running second at the time, would appear to try to utilize Harvick's 2017 race-winning strategy, and was told by his crew chief to come in early for a pit stop. Harvick's team, listening to race radios, heard the command, and crew chief Rodney Childers ordered Harvick to duck into the pits ahead of Truex.
Truex was then immediately ordered by his crew chief to stay out, right as Harvick had darted in and was committed to going into the pits. Truex did not come in for another seven laps, which would allow for Truex to have fresher tires for the remainder of the race. Harvick and Bowyer would again enter the pits with nineteen laps to go for fresh tires and fuel, and did so in the hope and prayer for an accident or a caution flag, which would bunch the field back up, and leave Truex out as a sitting duck with older tires.
Truex stayed out, hoping for no cautions, and that is how the race ended, without any cautions for the final 60-lap stage of the race, with Truex holding a monster lead at one point of 30+ seconds over Harvick.
The only caution for the entire event was for #47, road race ace and Watkins Glen 2014 winner A.J. Allmendinger, who looked promising in the early part of the race, having led for some laps and winning the first stage. He floated the motor at high rpm, however, after accidentally going into 1st gear while attempting to upshift from 2nd to 3rd gear during the opening laps of the second stage, producing not-so-pleasing loud metallic sounds, as if someone casually tossed a bunch of silverware into a running garbage disposal. Allmendinger's engine attempted to reach F1 V10 rpm levels, and then promptly lunched itself, leaving A.J. disabled on the course.
This win represents Truex's second victory at this track, and third this season.
STAGE 1 WINNER: A.J. ALLMENDINGER
STAGE 2 WINNER: DENNY HAMLIN
1. The driver of the #42 Chip Ganassi Chevrolet, Kyle Larson, also the polesitter for this event, began developing handling woes within the first lap or two of the race, was passed for the lead at the end of lap 3, and then began sailing towards the rear, going back as far as 34th at one point (out of 38). He would end up P14, and a sad, broken, dejected little man with a tiny storm cloud floating directly overhead, after being heard asking his crew chief, toward the end of the race, as to what was going wrong with the car, to which the chief responded, "I don't know, either."
2. The Ironman Award goes to: Ryan Blaney, who began losing his power steering early in the final stage...and completed the race with it entirely gone. He was also reportedly running a small steering wheel, which didn't help any with his suffering. He was having to constantly come into the pits every few laps, due to arm cramps. These aren't exactly lightweight cars.
3. Unlike the ridiculousness of the first lap at the Paul Ricard/French Grand Prix earlier today, where half of the field attempted to wipe out the other half of the field, and the ridiculous striping of the track probably adding to the madness as well...the race today at Sonoma was exceptionally clean, which goes a long way to point out the quality of drivers currently in the sport of NASCAR. This of course may change ten minutes from now, but at least for today, a lot of maturity was displayed out on the track.
1. The grandstands around the entire track were almost entirely empty, even around The Chute, the abomination added to the track in an attempt to straighten it out for the decidedly-non-race-course NASCAR race car, and also provide higher speeds. For those of you who use this track on Forza or other racing simulators, it's the layout that looks more like a square on the left side, and eliminates turns 4, 5, and the giant, sweeping loop of 6 through the infield (where everyone else runs). Further notes: Since this NASCAR layout gets rid of turns 4, 5, and 6, it goes straight from turn 4A to turn 7, so while NASCAR keeps mentioning turns 9, 10, and 11, they're actually skipping the middle three turns, so there aren't 11 full turns.
Beyond that, the stands, my God, it was like a ghost town in some sections. This was a good race, a lot of action, it is never really dull here, but in the end, NASCAR needs to seriously do something about attendance at these events, or they are going to eventually go away.
2. This win by Truex is a continuation of the slug-fest between Ford Motor Company (the manufacturer of my horrible Lincoln), and Toyota Motor Company (the manufacturer of my not-quite-as-horrible Toyota Solara).
Chevrolet, in debuting their new Camaro (in name only) for 2018, has produced some teething problems for the Chevrolet teams, which only have one win for this season, when a certain little jerk driving the Richard Childress Racing #3 punted someone out of the way for a win at the Daytona 500 at the start of the season.
Beyond that, the tally is now Ford with eight wins by only three drivers, and seven wins by Toyota: Kyle Busch with 4, and now Martin Truex with 3.
This creates something of an interesting discussion, because NASCAR, over the last forty years, has absolutely hated Ford Motor Company, and has punished the bejesus out of Ford teams if they ever strung along more than two wins in a row, usually rushing to handicap every Ford car in the field to a ridiculous degree. Roush Racing legend Mark Martin unnecessarily felt NASCAR's wrath on multiple occasions, dinging Martin (considered one of the greatest drivers and nicest men in the sport) with ridiculous penalties which usually took away championship points...right as he just happened to be in the lead.
This happened some four times, where bizarre penalties would materialize, and it was almost always just by enough to come in second. One particular penalty was for a suspension coil spring which was supposedly a 1/4 of a coil too short...which would not have affected performance in any way...and was a manufacturing error, not something that was modified. He lost the championship that year.
Chevrolet, and most notably Rick Hendrick Racing (owner of the #24, co-owner of the #48, and owners of the #88 and #9 teams), however, routinely got away with murder, in that their cars would show up, be highly illegal...but be allowed to compete anyway, and win. (Research the 'T-Rex' #24 for more information). NASCAR would ignore long strings of Chevrolet wins, especially during the 1990's, when Ford teams were stuck with an non-competitive Ford Thunderbird body (resulting in some ingenious fixes to make them somewhat-competitive again), and if Ford managed to win a race or two, the mighty rulebook would slap down any such effort.
The reason why I mention this is because from at least what I have seen over the last couple of seasons, NASCAR has kept their hands off of the Banhammer in relation to Ford Motor Company...and Toyota and Chevrolet as well, although there have been a lot of instances where NASCAR has been slightly heavy-handed towards innovative engineering ideas...which might lean towards some of the Ford teams. Beyond that, however, NASCAR has been a lot more resistant to engaging in any such chicanery, and might be praised for keeping their dirty mitts off of the cars.
See you next week.
(Image courtesy of facebook.com/MartinTruexJr/)