Adam Cheek, Staff Writer
Rain clouds loomed over the Richmond Raceway all weekend, but held off long enough for the Toyota Owners 400.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. led with the most laps Saturday night, which was a good omen for many drivers.
Kyle Busch has had success in Richmond, having won four consecutive spring races from 2009-2012 and sweeping both races last year. He paced the field most of the way as an early favorite until a Kyle Larson crash brought out the caution. Busch was hit with a speeding penalty coming off pit road and never fully recovered, working his way back up through the field but stalled out once he got into the top five.
Larson’s crash was just another installment in his dismal season. The driver of the No. 42 has only two top-10s this year.
“[It’s a] pretty crappy start to the year,” Larson said. “We’ve got decent speed, but we still run into issues.”
In the last 100 laps, Clint Bowyer and 2018 championship winner Joey Logano closed in on Truex for the lead. Bowyer worked his way to Truex’s bumper, but used up his tires and soon faded.
Bowyer and Truex’s battle opened the door for Logano. The No. 22 passed Bowyer for second, inching toward Truex as the laps wound down. Many expected the finish might be a second installment of Martinsville last year, when Logano moved Truex on the final lap and won the race.
However, Logano couldn’t quite get there. Truex kept his car in front, taking away Logano’s preferred line and working through lapped traffic. Truex and Logano were nose-to-tail as they took the checkered flag, both drivers racing hard enough to slide sideways across the stripe.
Truex finally won his first race at a short track after 80 tries, snapping the drought while scoring his first win with Joe Gibbs Racing. The 2017 champion is the third Gibbs driver to lock himself into the playoffs with the 2019 Toyota Owners 400 victory.
“I’m just really excited to win here at Richmond,” he said. “I’ve always loved coming here … tonight we didn’t have the best car, but we’ve lost here with the best car a bunch of times, so we just fought.”
Truex said Bowyer and Logano growing larger in his mirror was added stress to the fact that his car lost grip as the race wound down.
“I was struggling the last 40 laps,” he said. “I had no front turn, I was tight that last run. Thanks to the pit crew … [they had] the defensive stop of the year tonight.”
Chris Buescher and Paul Menard had solid runs on Saturday night as well, with Buescher running inside the top 10 most of the night and Menard finishing in that range.
After a week off for Easter, the touring series — minus the Truck Series — will head to Talladega Superspeedway to end April. The Xfinity Series will kick off at 1 p.m. on April 27, while the Cup Series will get the green flag at 2 p.m. on April 28.