Sonoma Raceway: Truex keeps ahead of Busch for his fourth checkered flag

photo from Martin Truex Jr celebrates winning the Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday

By Tom Zulewski

SONOMA — As the laps wound down at the Toyota/SaveMart 350 on Sunday, Martin Truex Jr. didn’t have too much to worry about — until he found a mirror full of Kyle Busch, who was closing in fast. When the checkered flag fell, Truex had just enough to keep his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate at bay and win on the newly-expanded road course for the second year in a row.

The driver of the No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota took his fourth checkered flag of the 2019 season. “I was just trying to get all I could out of the car and not burn the tires up too much,” said Truex, who became the first repeat winner at Sonoma Raceway since Jeff Gordon won three straight from 1998-2000. “I knew Kyle pitted later than I did and had fresher tires. He was beating us pretty good for a while and I had to try and manage my car the best I could. If I could maintain a decent gap, we’d start to equal (lap times) out. “From there, it was run 10 perfect laps and don’t screw up.”

Truex Jr. stayed good enough to beat Busch by 1.861 seconds. Ryan Blaney came in third and Matt DiBenedetto had a career-best finish of fourth place. “It’s a little bit harder when you’re the leader,” Truex crew chief Cole Pearn said. “There are spots where you have to follow for a couple of corners, and you can lose three, four, five-tenths a lap. That’s enough to close and get a dive-bomb, so that’s all we were really worried about.”

Busch thought his chances of catching and passing Truex were limited. “I didn’t think there was gonna be a lot of a chance when I got there considering he was gonna be riding around and saving his tires,” Busch said. “It was gonna be a tall order to keep my momentum and speed going for the entire run.” Busch got his No. 18 M&Ms Toyota within a second of Truex, but couldn’t get any closer over the final five laps around the 2.52-mile layout that featured the return of the Carousel, a blind corner that returned as part of the track after a two-decade absence.

DiBenedetto, who hails from nearby Grass Valley, said he was looking forward to joining friends and family to watch the race on tape. “I’m going to text A.J. (Allmendinger) when I get back (home),” DiBenedetto said. “I’ve always been confident in my ability to wheel a race car, but I’m going against guys that are so good and so experienced, we had to make sure we got the car right.”

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race – 31st Annual Toyota/Save Mart 350

Sonoma Raceway

Sonoma, California

Sunday, June 23, 2019

1. (8) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 90.

2. (7) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 90.

3. (9) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 90.

4. (19) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 90.

5. (6) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 90.

6. (23) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 90.

7. (21) Ryan Newman, Ford, 90.

8. (32) Erik Jones, Toyota, 90.

9. (15) Aric Almirola, Ford, 90.

10. (1) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 90.

11. (14) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 90.

12. (11) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 90.

13. (16) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 90.

14. (12) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 90.

15. (25) Daniel Hemric, Chevrolet, 90.

16. (10) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 90.

17. (5) Daniel Suarez, Ford, 90.

18. (22) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 90.

19. (2) William Byron, Chevrolet, 90.

20. (18) David Ragan, Ford, 90.

21. (17) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 90.

22. (24) Paul Menard, Ford, 90.

23. (3) Joey Logano, Ford, 90.

24. (26) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 90.

25. (13) Michael McDowell, Ford, 89.

26. (30) Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 89.

27. (31) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 89.

28. (28) Matt Tifft #, Ford, 89.

29. (20) Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, 89.

30. (29) Parker Kligerman(i), Toyota, 89.

31. (35) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 89.

32. (27) Corey LaJoie, Ford, 89.

33. (37) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 89.

34. (33) Justin Haley(i), Chevrolet, 88.

35. (38) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 88.

36. (34) Cody Ware(i), Chevrolet, Fatigue, 64.

37. (4) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, Engine, 60.

38. (36) JJ Yeley, Chevrolet, Fuel Pump, 53.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 83.922 mph.

Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 42 Mins, 9 Secs. Margin of Victory: 1.861 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 2 for 6 laps.

Lead Changes: 7 among 5 drivers.

Lap Leaders: K. Larson 0;W. Byron 1-21;C. Elliott 22-24;M. Truex Jr. 25-37;D. Hamlin 38-41;M. Truex Jr. 42-63;K. Busch 64-66;M. Truex Jr. 67-90.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Martin Truex Jr. 3 times for 59 laps; William Byron 1 time for 21 laps; Denny Hamlin 1 time for 4 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 3 laps; Chase Elliott 1 time for 3 laps.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 10,11,21,22,24,37,4,42,48,88

Stage #2 Top Ten: 11,17,18,19,2,22,24,42,43,9

Tom Zulewski covers the NASCAR Somona Raceway each year at

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