Tuesday, February 9, 2021

CUP: Martin Truex, Jr. wrecks out of the lead after Custer rebounds


Martin Truex, Jr.
finished last in Tuesday’s Busch Clash at the Daytona Infield Road Course when his #19 DeWalt Toyota was involved in a single-car accident after 27 of 35 laps.

The 2021 season marks Truex’s third year with Joe Gibbs Racing. Last year, he won the June race at Martinsville, but for the first time since 2016 did not make the Championship Four. The deciding race came in the return to Martinsville on November 1, where he led 129 of the first 456 laps. He was still running second to Chase Elliott in the final laps when a loose wheel forced him to pit road, knocking him out of the title hunt.

When the series arrived at Daytona, Truex was among the favorites to take the first running of the Busch Clash on the track’s infield road course. While Elliott had won the last four points-paying Cup races on road courses, Truex had won the two most recent races at Sonoma, plus the 2017 round in Watkins Glen. Carrying sponsorship from DeWalt, which had previously backed his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate in the #20, Truex drew the 18th spot in the field of 21.

Taking 21st and last was Aric Almirola in the #10 Smithfield “10 Years In Racing Ford.” He wouldn’t hold the spot for long as he’d be joined by none other than 7th-place starter Chase Elliott, whose #9 Llumar Window Film Chevrolet was cited for unapproved adjustments in inspection. “Be patient,” Elliott was told on the radio. “We’ve got plenty of time to get up there.”

When the race started, Elliott made quick work of Almirola in the first corner and was working his way past Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in the #47 Kroger / NOS Energy Drink Chevrolet. By the backstretch chicane, both Almirola and Stenhouse had moved past Austin Dillon, whose #3 Bass Pro Shops / Tracker Off Road Chevrolet now brought up the rear. Dillon held the spot at the stripe, 7.531 seconds back of the lead and 0.312 back of Almirola in 20th.

By Lap 3, the field had already kicked up a patch of dirt and mud at the exit of the backstretch chicane, making the transition back onto the banking particularly treacherous. First to find this out was Kevin Harvick, whose #4 Busch Beer Ford was running behind Ty Dillon in the debut of 23XI Racing’s #23 Root Insurance Toyota. When Dillon kicked up more dirt, Harvick spun into the infield grass and plummeted to last place. On Lap 5, he was 9.204 seconds back of Austin Dillon, and 27.722 back of the lead.

Joey Logano then took his turn in last on Lap 6 after his #22 Shell / Pennzoil Ford, damaged after an early ride over the “turtles,” was the first to hit pit road under green. Three laps later, NASCAR threw the caution to address the dirt on the backstretch. Logano pitted again, only to incur a penalty for too many men over the wall. Stenhouse was docked for one of his crew members coming over the wall too soon, and on the Lap 11 restart the pair rolled off in the final two spots.

Once again, Harvick found trouble on the restart, spinning into the grass off Turn 1 as the leaders fought to slow for the corner. This again put the #4 in last place, during which time NASCAR reported he’d returned to minimum speed. He held the spot until the end of the stage, when Stenhouse retook the spot with his Lap 18 stop under yellow. In doing so, Stenhouse pitted too soon, and the redundant penalty kept him 21st.

Kurt Busch in the #1 Advent Health Chevrolet was next to find trouble, again in the first corner. Busch overdrove the turn, locked the brakes, then made a lengthy turn back onto the track again. By then, he’d dropped to last place behind Stenhouse. He’d hold the spot until Lap 22, when 6th-place running Cole Custer appeared to miss the chicane entering the tri-oval. Custer stopped his #41 HaasTooling.com Ford, apparently serving a stop-and-go, but the car wouldn’t re-fire. A small fire then started behind the rear axle, and smoke filled the cockpit, forcing Custer out of the car. The car was brought behind the wall at a nearby garage entrance, and the team was informed they could return to the race if they effected any repairs. By then, they were two laps down with just over 10 laps to go. On Lap 25, their work was complete, and by the next time by, Custer was on the track, four laps down.

Meanwhile, Truex was having an up-and-down day of his own. Twice he’d have to charge up from the back of the pack, including a penalty for missing the trioval chicane under caution. With seven laps to go, he’d worked his way back to the lead, and was looking to open his advantage as he headed down the backstretch. But the exit of the chicane was as muddy and treacherous as it had been for Harvick. Truex hit the patch and spun out, slamming the backstretch wall hard with the left-front corner of his car. Truex limped to pit road, but had broken the steering. By pulling behind the wall, NASCAR deemed him out under the “Damaged Vehicle Policy.” Custer continued on to the finish, dropping Truex to last on Lap 32.

Kurt Busch and Ty Dillon took the next two spots in the Bottom Five with Brad Keselowski rounding out the group after his #2 Money Lion Ford also had trouble in the same spot as Truex. Truex’s car was the only one listed out of the event.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #19 in the Busch Clash.
*This was the third-straight Clash where a Joe Gibbs Racing team finished last. Each has been with a different team: Kyle Busch in the #18 in 2020, and Erik Jones in the #20 in 2019. The fourth JGR entry, the #11 driven by Denny Hamlin, has yet to finish last in the event.

21) #19-Martin Truex, Jr. / 27 laps / crash / led 2 laps
20) #41-Cole Custer / 32 laps / running
19) #1-Kurt Busch / 35 laps / running / led 1 lap
18) #23-Ty Dillon / 35 laps / running
17) #2-Brad Keselowski / 35 laps / running / led 1 lap

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