Martin Truex Jr. had a somewhat disappointing season in 2020, winning just one NASCAR Cup Series race. He wasted little time getting back on track in 2021, winning Sunday at Phoenix Raceway. Martin Truex Jr., the 2017 Cup Series champion, took the lead from Joey Logano on a restart with 25 laps remaining and pulled away for his 28th career victory. Logano finished second, followed by Denny Hamlin, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott.
Logano won the race off pit road with 29 laps remaining, but Martin Truex Jr. passed him on the outside on the restart with 25 to go and quickly opened up a half-second lead.
Martin Truex Jr. battled back to win despite hitting the wall early in the race and suffering minor damage to his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Martin Truex Jr. and Hamlin gave JGR two finishers in the top five.
“Just an awesome job by everybody," Martin Truex Jr. said. "(Crew chief) James (Small) and the team did a great job fixing it. Really solid. I thought at the beginning of the race, I thought we were going to run 15th or so. I really can’t believe it. I’m kind of speechless. It feels pretty amazing. Phoenix is really a tough one for us, but to come here and win, I wish it was November, but hopefully we can come back here in November and have a shot at being in the final four. Just so thankful and so proud of everyone at JGR."
How did Martin Truex Jr. win at Phoenix?
Logano won the race off pit road during a caution period with 48 laps to go. Keselowski took the lead from Bubba Wallace, who did not pit, on the restart, but Logano quickly tracked down his teammate and passed him for the lead with 40 to go.
After Kyle Busch spun on Lap 281, all the leaders pitted again and Logano was once again first off pit road, beating Truex, Hamlin and Keselowski. But Logano, who won Stage 2, could not hold off Truex on the restart or catch him during the sprint to the checkered flag.
“I was surprised he was able to hang with me," Logano said. "… But I’m pretty sure even if I beat him, he was going to hound me and probably get by me. They had the best car. He just had to get up front, and he did."
“I’ve got an awesome team," Martin Truex Jr. said. "We had a tough year last year, a little bit up and down and rocky, but really proud of them and the effort today by everybody."
Martin Truex Jr. was also happy to be able to be able to celebrate in front of fans at Phoenix Raceway after COVID kept fans from attending most races last year.
“That’s the most we’ve seen in a while. The more the merrier," Martin Truex Jr. said. "We love having them and we miss seeing them in the infield. We miss prerace, we miss qualifying, we miss practice, just like everyone else. It’s great that we are able to have a good crowd here."
Kyle Larson, who won last week at Las Vegas, had an eventful day, battling back from two speeding penalties to finish seventh.
Hendrick Motorsports drivers Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and William Byron each had to drop to the rear of the field at the start of the race due to issues in pre-race inspection. But all three drivers worked their way into the top 10 by the end of Stage 1, with Elliott running fourth. Larson drove into the top 10 despite being sent to the rear twice, the second time for speeding on pit road.
Larson drove all the way to second place in Stage 2 and was gaining on leader Logano when he was nabbed for speeding on pit road again on Lap 145, forcing him to pit again under green and losing a lap.
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Team Penske also dominated Stage 2, with Logano winning it over Martin Truex Jr.
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Logano held the lead in Stage 3 until Martin Truex Jr. ran him down and took the lead for the first time on Lap 224.
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The win was the third straight top-10 finish for Martin Truex Jr. and vaulted him to fourth in the NASCAR Cup Series standings.