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Martin Truex Jr. dominates to win at Darlington

·5-min read

Martin Truex Jr. has three wins in 2021. 

Truex dominated Sunday's race at Darlington and held off a late charge from Kyle Larson to get his third win of the season and remain the only driver to win multiple races in 2021. 

Truex led 248 of the race's 293 laps in a display that seemed effortless until he had to keep Larson at bay in the final stage. And that wasn't even that much of a threat. While Larson closed in toward Truex, he never got close enough to make a pass and Truex ended up winning the race by over two seconds. 

"It was fun to come here to Darlington with low downforce," Larson said. "During the day we were sliding around. I felt like we were not very good all day, but I passed a lot of cars and found myself towards the front. I was like well, I feel like I’m struggling but I'm fast. So, it was fun."

He also won each of the race's first two stages. If you want some perspective on how good Truex was compared to the rest of the field, no other driver led more than 10 laps. And one of the drivers who led 10 laps — Ross Chastain — only did so because he didn't pit when everyone else did during the first stage.

Larson finished second and Kyle Busch was third. William Byron was fourth and Denny Hamlin was fifth. Joe Gibbs Racing was set to have all four of its cars in the top six until Christopher Bell had to pit in the waning laps after he hit the wall. Bell rallied back with his fresh tires to finish 14th. 

Martin Truex Jr. drives into Turn 1 during the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Darlington Raceway, Sunday, May 9, 2021, in Darlington, S.C. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)
Martin Truex Jr. drives into Turn 1 during the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Darlington Raceway, Sunday, May 9, 2021, in Darlington, S.C. (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

A throwback to a lack of downforce

Sunday's race marked the first time Darlington has hosted two races in a Cup Series season not impacted by COVID-19 since 2004 and the first time that NASCAR ran a Cup Series race on Mother's Day since 2007. 

The race was designated the track's throwback weekend as myriad cars donned paint schemes to honor cars and teams of the past. And the race also featured more horsepower and less downforce than recent Darlington races. 

NASCAR upped the horsepower from 550 to 750 and cut the downforce at Darlington races ahead of the 2021 season. That resulted in entertaining racing throughout the field despite Truex's dominance as drivers had to wrestle their cars from the start of the race. 

Just look at how much more Truex was out of the throttle and on the brake compared to 2020. The blue line is 2021 and the yellow line is 2020. 

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"I love low downforce. That's all I'm going to say. I love it," Truex said after the race.

NASCAR had long contended that more off-throttle time led to more passing. And it's a theory that makes a ton of sense. If drivers are all running the same speed for most of the lap they won't have many opportunities to pass each other. 

That was on display on Sunday at Darlington. Yeah, Truex kicked everyone's butt. But dominating wins happen in any series with any rules set. Drivers were having to manage their tires throughout the race and frequently passing each other. Truex was also able to navigate his way through lapped traffic with relative ease — something that hasn't been said with NASCAR's higher downforce rules at bigger tracks. There was less dirty air for teams to contend with and drivers could drive closer together in the corners without the increased threat of dirty air ruining a car's speed.

"Big fan of this kind of racing," Truex said. "Really enjoy it. Today was a heck of a challenge. I did come on the radio one time and say I'm really surprised how slow it feels and how slick it is. I was leading and driving away from the field, and I'm like, this thing is sliding everywhere."

Aric Almirola's bad season

Aric Almirola finished last on Sunday after he crashed out of the race early.

Almirola started at the back of the field because his car failed pre-race inspection twice. He then found his race end was he went crashing into the inside backstretch wall. 

Almirola remains 28th in the points standings after he finished 37th on Sunday. He has very little hope of making it to the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season unless he wins a race over the next 14 races. And given that Almirola has just one top-10 finish and no top fives in the first 12 races, a win seems incredibly improbable. 

Race results

1. Martin Truex Jr.

2. Kyle Larson

3. Kyle Busch

4. William Byron

5. Denny Hamlin

6. Kevin Harvick

7. Chase Elliott

8. Ryan Blaney

9. Chris Buescher

10. Ryan Newman

11. Chase Briscoe

12. Tyler Reddick

13. Joey Logano

14. Christopher Bell

15. Ross Chastain

16. Austin Dillon

17. Alex Bowman

18. Erik Jones

19. Matt DiBenedetto

20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

21. Bubba Wallace

22. Corey LaJoie

23. Daniel Suarez

24. Brad Keselowski

25. Ryan Preece

26. Anthony Alfredo

27. Michael McDowell

28. Justin Haley

29. JJ Yeley

30. Quin Houff

31. James Davison

32. BJ McLeod

33. Josh Bilicki

34. Cody Ware

35. Kurt Busch

36. Cole Custer

37. Aric Almirola

Points standings

1. Denny Hamlin, 529 points

2. Martin Truex Jr., 454

3. William Byron, 428

4. Joey Logano, 406

5. Ryan Blaney, 405

6. Kyle Larson, 385

7. Kevin Harvick, 385

8. Chase Elliott, 382

9. Brad Keselowski, 379

10. Kyle Busch, 373

11. Christopher Bell, 320

12. Austin Dillon, 316

13. Chris Buescher, 287

14. Alex Bowman, 281

15. Michael McDowell, 278

16. Tyler Reddick, 268

17. Matt DiBenedetto, 265

18. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 249

19. Ryan Newman, 246

20. Kurt Busch, 240

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