Martin Truex Jr. might have conquered Martinsville Speedway once again, but crew chief James Small laughingly called Sunday’s race a “(expletive) show.”
“That’s awesome,” smiled Truex at the description.
“Well, it was,” replied Small. “Don’t deny it.”
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The victory was Truex’s third at Martinsville in the last four races and his second straight there with Small atop the pit box. Truex led 20 laps and took the lead from his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin on lap 485 after having worked Hamlin over for roughly 10 laps.
“It was very different to how we won here before,” Small continued. “Usually, we have a pretty dominant car and led a lot of laps. This week we had to battle.”
Third in both stages, Truex consistently ran with the leaders while Small and the No. 19 team adjusted on the car every chance they could. As the race progressed, the more track conditions started to feel like previous races where Truex had covered the field.
On the final pit stop under a lap 453 caution, Truex beat Hamlin off pit road to control the restart. However, Hamlin quickly took the top spot back and forced Truex into being patient, knowing with how Hamlin’s car was changing there was still time to get back around him.
TICK TOCK! We had to battle for that one but our team never gave up to get that win. Awesome job by @james_small and our whole team! #TeamToyota pic.twitter.com/Mo8IYgIhlD
— Martin Truex Jr. (@MartinTruex_Jr) April 12, 2021
“It was a struggle,” Small said. “We didn’t start off well. We ran in the top five most of the day. When I got a little crazy with all the different people coming and going and staying out, I think we were starting back at 12th a couple times, battled back through, cautions. We couldn’t get into a flow.
“I felt like we had a somewhat decent car on a long run, but it wasn’t great. We weren’t great on short runs. We still needed to be better. We didn’t have the pace of the 11 and the 12. We tried a couple things, went the wrong way, then came back on them and did a few other things.
“Finally, that third stage, we hit on something. Martin gave really good feedback, exactly what he needed. It kind of all started making sense. I think the track came to us a little bit there. Yeah, it was just all over. It was a bit of a blur, to be honest.”
The victory makes Truex and Small the first repeat winners of the Cup Series season and their third win together. Small took over the team last season after Cole Pearn left NASCAR at the end of 2019. While last year was successful for the team with a win – at Martinsville – and playoff appearance, a lack of playoff points and being forced into having to win late in the playoffs kept them from the final four where they’d been the three previous seasons.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) April 12, 2021
In the end, it was the dominant races with missed opportunities to have more notches in the win column that stung the most. So, despite how it played out Sunday, getting a second win so early in the season is a relief for Small.
“There was quite a number of races last year where we had the best car, things didn’t go right at the end,” he said. “That’s a real punch in the gut every time that happens. It’s even sweeter when you’re coming from behind, you battled all day. I feel that’s what’s really good. No matter what happens with our team, whether it’s Martin, we just keep trying and trying and never give up. Finally, we got there.
“We’ve lost some races like that. Last year, we lost one where we led and got passed at the end. It’s gut-wrenching. Finally, good it happened to somebody else. We got really excited at the end.”