Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. dominated on Sunday, winning the Goodyear 400 after leading 248 laps. This was his third checkered flag of the 2021 season, and there is a common factor in all of the trips to Victory Lane. Truex has won races with NASCAR‘s 750-horsepower, low downforce race package.
Sunday’s trip to Darlington was the first with the low downforce package after years of 550 horsepower and high downforce. There were drivers that experienced a varying level of success with the new setup, especially considering that they had no practice laps to help them adjust. Truex, on the other hand, took the lead early and won all three stages while putting on a show.
“I love low downforce. That’s all I’m going to say. I love it,” Truex told media members on Sunday. “I feel like especially this year, all three races we won have been with this package, so obviously the guys and girls at JGR are doing a great job. But I just — for me, you look at ’16, ’17, ’18, low downforce, we very well could have won all three championships. We were right there in all three and won a lot of races.”
The low downforce combined with warm temperatures for added difficulty
Early in Sunday’s race at The Lady in Black, there were multiple cars that slid around. Aric Almirola lost grip after passing Ricky Stenhouse Jr., only to end up in the wall after a tap from the No. 47 Chevrolet Camaro. Others dealt with similar issues to a lesser degree while fighting to stay away from the wall, but several left the track with some damage to their vehicles.
“Big fan of this kind of racing. Really enjoy it,” Truex added. “Today was a heck of a challenge. I did come on the radio one time and say I’m really surprised how slow it feels and how slick it is. I was leading and driving away from the field, and I’m like, this thing is sliding everywhere. It’s pretty amazing just how much this track changes year to year every time we come back. It gets more difficult with the wear of the pavement.
“I would say that we probably have less downforce now than we’ve ever had here because some of the rules changes since ’17 or ’18. We probably have less downforce than we had then, even with building new cars and working on them to get them better and better and better.”
Only one person truly challenged Truex during his dominant performance
While the veteran JGR driver won the first two stages and appeared to have the win locked up, a late challenger surfaced and came within a half-second of the No. 19 Toyota Camry. Kyle Larson, the driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro, made a late charge and came within of taking the lead. However, lap traffic slowed him down just enough for Truex to ultimately pull away.
“You know, I think you just go from being really calm and like, ‘all right, this is great, no cautions, let’s take care of this thing, and just click off the laps and run 90-95%, leave a little bit out there, try to take care of your tires, self-defense,’ all that kind of stuff,” Truex explained.
“Then next thing you know you have a slow pit stop, this and that, you get caught behind a few cars, lap cars racing, whatnot. You’re like, ‘oh, man, he’s right there. Like I hadn’t had to race him all day, where did he come from, better get going, crap, now I’m too loose, I can’t go any faster.’ Heart rate goes up and anxiety goes up and you just try not to make any mistakes.”
Truex did tap the wall late in the race while trying to hold off Larson, but the impact did not cut his tire or ruin his day. He continued finding success behind the wheel of the No. 19 JGR Toyota Camry, taking the checkered flag and becoming the first Cup driver in Darlington history to win a stage and the race on the same day.