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Martin Truex Jr. appeared to have things well in hand Sunday at Darlington Raceway. The Furniture Row Racing driver had the fastest car on long runs during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Southern 500.  In a rarity for one of NASCAR’s toughest races, the final 102 laps ran caution free, something that hasn’t happened since 1998, and seemingly putting the race into his lap.

Unfortunately for Truex, Denny Hamlin spoiled the party.

Truex pitted under green with several other leaders for the last time on lap 265.  The two exceptions were Hamlin and his fellow Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch. Both stayed out and became the only two cars on the lead lap.  When they finally pitted, Hamlin came into the pits too hot and missed the entrance; that seemed to seal the deal for Truex.  He took the lead on lap 326.

Hamlin meanwhile was charging through the field. With five laps to go, Hamlin was second just a half a second behind Truex.  “I didn’t know how many laps fresher their tires were,” Truex said. “They told me that they thought I could hold him off and they gave me the intervals and how fast he was catching me.”  

On the penultimate lap Truex scraped the turn 3 wall slowing just enough to allow Hamlin to get past.    

“With two to go, I seen him coming,” Truex said. “But catching somebody and passing him is a whole different deal here, and I was really holding my own pretty well if I could get some clean air, and every time I’d catch a lap car they’d just drive off in the corner, slide up in front of me and then I was just so loose on those old tires around other cars that there wasn’t much I could do to keep my pace, my momentum.”

Hamlin celebrated his win, while Truex had to settle for eighth.

“We had a great car, just didn’t work out for us tonight,” Truex said. “But a lot to be proud of. To come here and have a shot at winning this race two years in a row, it’s a hell of an accomplishment.  This place is so tough, and to run 498 miles an inch from the fence and scrape it four or five times with the right rear and never tear my car up and be leading the race is something I’m really proud of.  It wasn’t our night, but we’ve got a lot to be proud of.”

Truex was able to celebrate one accomplishment. He won both stages Sunday, and clinched the regular season championship, earning another valuable 15 championship points.

“Well, it’s definitely special,” he said.  “It feels great.  Definitely can go to Richmond without any pressure, which is awesome.  The other cool part is I clinched my first NASCAR championship here back in ’04 in the Busch Series back then.  To do it here again tonight was really cool.  It was just kind of a neat connection.  Darlington has been good to me.  I love coming here, and for that reason I guess it’s a little bit extra special to do it here tonight.”
 














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