RICHMOND, Va. — Martin Truex Jr. assumed the lead when Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch was penalized for speeding with about 50 laps to go and won the NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway on Saturday night.
The victory was the third for Truex in the last five races at Richmond. He got the lead when Busch was caught speeding entering pit road during green flag pit stops, causing him to relinquish a big lead and fall back to 10th.
Truex led a 1-2-3 finish for JGR, with Denny Hamlin finishing second and Christopher Bell in third. And Truex did it after being black-flagged on the first lap for beating Hamlin, the pole-sitter, to the start-finish line for the start of the race.
“That was frustrating, I’m not going to lie, but I knew we had a good enough car to overcome it,” Truex said about the penalty.
The finish marked the sixth time JGR cars swept the top three spots.
“We needed just a couple more laps. That’s all.” Hamlin, who won his first race of the season last week at Darlington, said.
The penalty sent Truex to the back of the field, but as he has done repeatedly since ending an 80-race winless drought on tracks shorter than a mile at the start of his career, he masterfully worked his way back into contention.
Defending series champion Chase Elliott was fourth, followed by Joey Logano and points-leader Kyle Larson, who started the race at the back of the field after twice failing prerace inspection. Larson did, however, manage to clinch his spot in the second round of the playoffs, which start after one more race.
Hamlin, as he did in the spring here, won both stages and led the most laps — 207 in the spring, 197 in this race — but failed to follow his victory last weekend with another on the track about 20 miles from where he grew up.
At the other end of the playoff spectrum, William Byron and Michael McDowell’s experiences are going poorly.
Byron finished 34th last week at Darlington and 19th at Richmond. McDowell finish 37th — last — at Darlington and had three speeding penalties and finished 29th at Richmond. The third penalty came while he was serving the second. McDowell is 16th with 2,015 points, while Byron is 20 points ahead. Also in danger of being eliminated are Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman (2,053 each), Aric Almirola (2,056) and Kyle Busch (2,061).
The series wraps up the opening round of the playoffs, and narrows the championship field from 16 to 12, on another short track with the annual Saturday night race around the high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway.