The NASCAR Cup Series drivers head to Darlington Raceway on Sunday, Sept. 5, for the first race of the playoffs. Several will enter as contenders, but Martin Truex Jr. could be one of the best options to lock up the win based on his performance earlier in the season.
The driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry reached Victory Lane for the third time in 2021 during the Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway on May 9. Truex turned in a dominant performance early, winning the first two stages and leading 248 of the 293 laps at the 1.36-mile oval.
Kyle Larson made a late run in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro and pulled within reach of Truex. However, he was unable to complete the pass before the official waved the checkered flag.
Truex added seven playoff points to his total by winning all three segments at Darlington, helping him build up an advantage over his fellow drivers entering the Round of 16. Now he will strive to win for the second time at Darlington and punch his ticket to the Round of 12.
“Confidence is high [heading toward Darlington],” Truex told Heavy during a pre-playoffs media availability. “Obviously, we’ve got some good tracks coming up for us. I look forward to, hopefully, taking advantage of that and getting off to a good start.”
Truex Has Performed Well in Several Darlington Races
The win on Mother’s Day was not the only time that Truex reached Victory Lane at Darlington Raceway. He actually has two Cup wins at the iconic track, including the 2016 Southern 500 when he only led 28 laps but held off Kevin Harvick when it mattered most.
Along with his two victories, Truex has nine finishes inside the top 10 in 18 starts. This stat line includes two of the past four trips to Darlington. He finished sixth in the first of three races on the 2020 schedule and 10th in the second. His 22nd-place finish in the 2020 Southern 500 served as the lone outlier.
While Truex has only reached Victory Lane twice at Darlington in 18 starts, he has displayed consistency at the track. He has an average finish of 11.16 along with only two finishes outside of the top 20. Truex has also finished every Cup race at Darlington in his career.
2 Other Playoff Drivers Will Seek Better Finishes
The first 2021 race at Darlington was a playoff driver-heavy affair. The top eight drivers in the May race now all sit in the 16-driver field. Tyler Reddick, Joey Logano, and Christopher Bell also all cracked the top 15.
The other side of that coin features Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola. Both men are in the playoffs after winning at Atlanta Motor Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway, respectively, but they had early issues during the first trip to Darlington.
Almirola’s No. 10 was the first vehicle to exit the Mother’s Day race. He passed Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and then lost grip while going around a turn. Almirola checked up and attempted to regain control, but Stenhouse tapped him from behind and sent the No. 10 into the wall. The collision was so violent that Almirola’s front two tires came off the ground as fluids poured onto the track surface.
Busch experienced something similar later in the race. He raced Matt DiBenedetto around a turn while fighting for position but suddenly went sideways into the inside wall. The collision caused significant damage to the No. 1 Chevrolet Camaro, including a cut oil line that shot flames out from under the stock car.
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