AVONDALE, Ariz. – Martin Truex Jr. became the fifth different winner in as many NASCAR Cup Series races this year with a victory in the Instacart 500 Sunday afternoon at Phoenix Raceway.
Truex proved to have the best car during the second half of the race, but he had to overcome Joey Logano during a restart with 25 laps left before he could celebrate in victory lane.
“This has been a tough track for us,” Truex said. “We struggled here in the fall. We came here with a whole new mindset, a whole new focus on trying to figure this place out and I’ll be damned if we didn’t do it. Hopefully we can keep tuning on this thing and come back for the Final Four in November.”
The veteran driver and 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion was the race leader when the caution flag waved for an incident involving Tyler Reddick with 51 laps left. Most of the field hit pit road, but a slow stop dropped Truex behind Logano and Brad Keselowski while Bubba Wallace inherited the lead after not pitting.
The restart saw Keselowski dive below Wallace to take the lead, only for Logano to quickly chase down and pass his teammate to take the lead while Truex worked his way back towards the front.
Truex had moved up to second when the final caution flag of the day waved on lap 281 when Kyle Busch spun off the nose of Ross Chastain. Logano opted to restart on the bottom in order to cut the frontstretch dog leg while Truex stuck to the top for the restart.
Logano immediately turned left when the green flag waved so he could cut the dog leg, but Truex managed to hang alongside Logano as they raced into turn one. With his tires in the traction compound on the top of turns one and two, Truex was able to drive around Logano to take the lead at the exit of turn two.
“I just got a good jump and was able to stay side-by-side with him, that was really the key,” Truex said. “Then he drove into one and kind of slid up and slid us both up the hill. Once that happened I was able to grab the PJ1 (traction compound) and get turned and get a good run off.”
Truex promptly turned on the afterburners and drove away from Logano. With no caution flags to slow the action, Truex cruised to his 28th NASCAR Cup Series victory, first of the season and first at Phoenix Raceway, where the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion will be crowned in November.
The victory on Sunday for Truex came despite some minor damage after he bounced off the wall early in the race.
“Just an awesome job by everybody, James (Small, crew chief), Blake (Harris, car chief) and all the pit crew guys fixing it. I mean really solid. I thought at the beginning of the race we were gonna run 15th or so,” Truex said after his first victory in nearly a year. “I can’t really believe it, I’m kind of speechless. This feels pretty amazing, you know? Phoenix has been a tough one for us and to come here and win this, I wish it was November, but hopefully we can come back here in November and have a shot at being in the Final Four.”
Logano settled for second and admitted he was shocked that Truex was able to stay alongside him entering turn one on the final restart. Despite that, he acknowledged it would have been tough to hold Truex off.
“I chose the bottom every time I’ve been the leader and it’s worked every single time,” said Logano, who won stage two. “I was batting 1,000 on the bottom the last two years here. I was kind of actually surprised that Truex was still out there. I felt like I created enough distance down there on the bottom shortcutting the dog leg.
“His car really accelerated really well, surprisingly well. I didn’t see that one coming. He just had a fast car,” Logano continued. “To be honest with you, I’m not sure even if we got in front of him on that last restart, I’m not sure I would have been able to hold him off or not.”
Denny Hamlin finished third, followed by Keselowski and reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott.
Ryan Blaney finished 10th after winning the opening stage of the race.
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