Toyota/Save Mart – Sonoma Raceway

When it comes to winning NASCAR races, you need a talented driver, a smart and bold crew chief, great pit stops, and sometimes a strategy call that puts the competitors on edge. Luckily, Martin Truex Jr in the #78 Toyota had all of that.

Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. lead the file to green at the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 24, 2018 in Sonoma, California.

Having started on the front row beside pole-sitter Kyle Larson, Truex didn’t really have far to go to claim the lead. Within a matter of a few laps, the #78 overtook Larson and began to pull away from the rest of the field.

The first stage ran without incident and allowed drivers to battle as they became re-introduced to the grueling demands of road-course racing, as Sonoma is the first of three in the 2018 NASCAR schedule. The majority of teams came to pit with 3 laps remaining in the stage, including the leader, Truex. Road-course star A.J. Allmendinger in the #47, on the other hand, opted to stay out and capture his first Stage Win of the season.

Unfortunately, even though Allmendinger had a fast Chevrolet, a mistake proved costly as he charged through the field following a pitstop at the end of Stage 1.  The mistake in question was a missed shift, intended to be from second to third but ended up back in first instead. The smoke billowed around the car and Allmendinger dropped the engine on Lap 33.

Kevin Harvick during the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 24, 2018 in Sonoma, California.

Simultaneously, Jaime McMurray in the #1 Chev started having mechanical issues and was pushed into the garage area where it was discovered he had a broken oil pump.

Both the #1 and the #47 were out of the race despite starting the event with competitive cars.

Again, several cars pitted with 3 laps to go in the segment, ending with Denny Hamlin taking the win for Stage Two.

The final stage played out without incident. There were no caution flags and zero incidents, with the exception of a shakeup on pit road when the #78 crew “accidentally” bluffed the #4 of Kevin Harvick who was leading at the time.

With less than 40 laps to go, Truex’s crew chief Cole Pearn had positioned the pit crew on the wall to make it seem as though the #78 was pitting. Pearn even told Truex to pit over the radio (which other teams are able to hear). Harvick’s team reacted and abruptly called the #4 in as well, in an effort to stay on the same strategy.

Martin Truex Jr. hops the curb during the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on June 24, 2018 in Sonoma, California.

As Harvick came onto pit road, Pearn quickly told Truex to stay out, which allowed the driver to break away from the rest and, at one point, resulted in a lead of over 26 seconds.

Harvick began to hunt Truex down with fresher tires, however, the lead was still plus 14 seconds when Truex took the checkered flag.

This was Martin Truex Jr’s 3rd win of the 2018 season. After Truex and Harvick came Clint Bowyer, Chase Elliott, and Kyle Busch to finished out the top 5.

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