Martin Truex Jr. dropped off the radar in the middle portions of this Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. If you were looking for him, Victory Lane at Las Vegas Motor Speedway is where you could find the 2017 series champion.
Truex Jr. won his fifth race of the season Sunday and it may have been the most important to date in 2019. His victory in the Cup Series Playoff opener moved him to the Round of 12 and one step closer to a second career title.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver did it in workman-like fashion wrestling the lead late in the second stage and then getting back around Kevin Harvick in the late going to speed his way to the checkered flag.
A year ago, Truex Jr. was part of the “Big 3” conversation along with Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. The 2019 season hasn’t been quite as dominating or flashy for that matter but this is the time of the year when things matter most.
Truex Jr. fired the first salvo in the championship battle Sunday in Las Vegas. It may not be his last.
- What a difference a year makes. Last season’s playoff opener at Las Vegas was a wild affair that featured 12 caution flags as drivers slide all around the 1.5-mile track in extreme heat and slick conditions. Sunday’s race was much tamer by comparison for most likely two reasons; a later start time that changed track conditions and added much more grip plus the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rules package that significantly increased downforce and kept cars much more stable than 365 days earlier. Drivers and crew chiefs predicted how track position and gaining spots on restarts would be key and that played itself out on Sunday.
- Tyler Reddick ended the Xfinity Series regular season in fine fashion with a win Saturday at LVMS. He did it with fuel strategy and was able to outrun Christopher Bell to the checkered flag for his fifth win. The so-called “Big 3” of the NXS – Reddick, Bell and Cole Custer – have combined to win 17 of the season’s first 26 races in an identical scenario to last year’s Cup Series storyline when Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. dominated into the playoffs. However we know how that turned out so maybe don’t yet engrave the championship trophy just yet.
- Austin Hill started the year with a win at Daytona and remains alive in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship race. Hill’s win in Friday night’s World of Westgate 200 moved him to the next round of the playoffs and kept the hopes alive for defending championship team Hattori Racing Enterprises to go back-to-back. Maybe more shocking was the devastation for ThorSport Racing after Grant Enfinger and Johnny Sauter missed moving on after experiencing engine issues, the same problem another teammate Matt Crafton suffered as well. The Truck Series resumes its Playoff run in a few weeks when Talladega Superspeedway rolls around on the schedule.
- The entire NASCAR community was shocked when the tragic news of Mike Stefanik’s death was confirmed Sunday night after a small plane crash. A nine-time champion in the Whelen Modified Tour and NASCAR North Series, Stefanik was widely regarded as the epitome of a racer. He was a hard-nosed, old school personality from the northeast that made his mark on the sport in a variety of ways. All of us at the Motor Racing Network send thoughts and prayers to the Stefanik family on the passing of a true NASCAR champion.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.