After winning the first two stages and clinching the NASCAR Cup Series regular season championship, Martin Truex Jr. was three laps short of making it a perfect evening of racing in Sunday night’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
He lost the race lead to Denny Hamlin on lap 365 of 367 due to a blown right-front tire, which caused his car to slap the concrete wall. Truex managed to stay on the track with the damaged car, limping home to an eighth-place finish, the last car on the lead lap. The result was Truex’s 17th top-10 finish of the season.
But before suffering the bad luck, Truex and his No. 78 Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Boats 40th Anniversary Toyota Camry were having a tremendous race at the track that carries a double moniker as the Lady in Black and Too Tough To Tame.
The charging Furniture Row Racing driver won the first stage, nipping Kyle Larson at the finish line. The stage win earned him 10 driver points and one playoff point. He went on to win the second stage picking up another playoff point, but more importantly the 10 driver points for the second stage win sealed the deal for Truex in clinching the NASCAR Cup Series regular season championship with one race remaining before the start of the playoffs.
For being the regular season champion, Truex will get to bank an additional 15 playoff points, bringing his series-leading total to 52.
“Yeah, I mean, it was definitely a bittersweet night for us, to come up just two laps short there, blew a tire at the end after having no issues with tires all night and having such a good race car,” said Truex, who has a series high of 17 stage wins. “I don’t know if that last run was the longest one we made all night. I’m not really sure to be honest. I was kind of out there caught up driving my guts out at the end trying to hang on.
“It’s unfortunate we blew the tire, but really proud of everybody on this team for an amazing season so far, and to lock up the regular season points is a huge accomplishment for our team. I feel like we’ve come a long way in just a few years together and continue to climb. Proud of everybody. Wish we could have won, but that’s the breaks. Sometimes they go your way, sometimes they don’t, and tonight we came up a little short. But definitely a lot to be proud of.”
Truex, who started second, led five times for 76 laps. He led 39 straight laps before relinquishing the lead on Lap 365 due to the flat tire.
Regarding the team’s first regular season championship, Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing, said there is still unfinished business ahead for the No. 78 team.
“It’s an honor to win the regular-season championship and a milestone for Martin and Furniture Row Racing,” said Garone. “At the end of the day, though, our sights are set on the long term-goal which is winning the championship at Homestead. We’ll use this regular season championship, and the bad luck the 78 team had at the end of tonight’s race, as a springboard to take us to that goal.”
Following Hamlin to the checkered flag were: Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon, Erik Jones, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Truex., Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray.
The race had 20 lead changes among eight drivers. There were eight cautions for 38 laps.
The next race is Saturday night, Sept. 9 at Richmond (Va.) Raceway.