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DAVIDSON: Truex all the way in the Darlington NASCAR Cup race

Darlington, SC, May 9/21 (by John Davidson): Martin Truex dominated the Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway, leading 248 of the 293 laps in the race on the track "Too Tough to Tame" and leading the final 105 laps, including holding the lead through two green-flag pit stop cycles. No Stage winner at Darlington had ever won the race until Truex dominated the race, winning both Stages and taking the checkered flag two and a half seconds ahead of Kyle Larson. Kyle Busch, William Byron and Denny Hamlin were the rest of the top five finishers. Joe Gibbs Racing placed three cars in the top five at the finish: Truex, Busch and Hamlin, joined by a pair of Hendrick Motorsports drivers in Larson and Byron.

History setting in more than one way, NASCAR Cup Series racing on Mother's Day and Goodyear as the title sponsor of a race – the Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway was NASCAR's throwback race, with paint schemes, driver fire suits and even the broadcast crew getting into the act with outfits and at least one wig. Even the Goodyear Eagle race tires sported the historic 'Bluestreak' trim on their sidewalls.

Brad Keselowski led from the green until Kevin Harvick swept by but then the Lady in Black slapped Aric Almirola when he spun off the second turn and into the inside wall, ending the day for the Mark Martin throwback Ford.

Harvick and Kyle Busch drove away at the restart, with Keselowski reporting that his car was 'on the splitter' – meaning that it was bottoming out and upsetting the handling – as he faded back in the field.

Kyle Busch had his right rear tire worn down to the cords, sending him to a light tap of the wall and sliding onto the apron to bring out the second caution of the race, just shy of his record of leading 18,000 laps.

Martin Truex headed the field to the end of the first Stage. Kyle Larson was nabbed for speeding as he left the pits during the end-of-Stage pit stop cycle.

Cole Custer got caught out by Anthony Alfredo's loose car just after the restart, slamming into the inside wall and out of the race, joining teammate Aric Almirola with nearly identical damage to the cars.

Truex sailed out to the lead on the restart, followed by Hamlin, Logano, Reddick and Kevin Harvick. Then just a couple of laps later, Kurt Busch spun into the front straight inside wall, mashing the nose of the car with flames pouring out of the right front wheel well. Busch stopped and climbed out unhurt.

"I was racing hard and there's no give and take," commented Busch after being checked and released. "Guy's running for the Lucky Dog; you can't fault him for that. But you still have to race the track and the give the room to the lead lap guys. But man, just got ran into, got taken out and we're on this end of it. It's been too many times. It's been a rough year and this just adds to it…. But we flat out got ran over. You still have to race the race track."

Denny Hamlin missed entering the pits with the rest of the field and led the 17 lead lap cars to the green flag on used tires with three laps on them. Martin Truex' new tires let him sweep around after only two turns and Hamlin sank to sixth in as many laps.

Green flag pit stops finally occurred, with Truex and Byron the top two after the cycle ended. With 20 laps left in the second Stage, Brad Keselowski pitted with a flat tire. Truex swept the first two Stages, followed by Kyle Busch, William Byron, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson to head into the final 108 laps of the race.

Truex, Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Byron and Larson led the field under the green flag to start the final 100 laps of the race with sixteen cars on the lead lap.

Fresh tires make a big difference, with lap speeds going from just over 165 mph on a fresh set of Blue Streaks to around 150 mph just before a green flag pit stop. Truex' car has had the speed over the field, allowing him to make green flag pit stops without losing the lead on the track, going through two green flag stop cycles. Following the pit stops leading to about 40 laps left, Kyle Larson started gaining a few lengths a lap on Truex, getting to the rear bumper of the No. 19 Toyota with 30 laps left, then an error of over driving a turn dropped him back almost ten lengths with Kyle Busch and William Byron third and fourth but out of touch with the lead pair.

Larson closed up again, with lapped traffic sometimes obstructing Truex' line approaching ten laps left. With eight laps left, Larson split between Reddick and Newman as they raced for position, just after they were put a lap down by Truex. At the white flag, Truex had a lead of over two seconds ahead of Larson, going on to become the first racer ever to take a Stage win and win the race at Darlington.

"I'm glad I could do that," (break the string of no Stage winner taking a Darlington victory.) "We have won a bunch of Stages over these last few years – just Lady Luck always got us," said Truex following the race. " It's really cool to throwback to Furniture Row. Hopefully Barney Visser (owner, Furniture Row Racing) is out here watching.

"If you pull off the wall, you are four tenths slower, and your tires get burnt off. I ran where I had to run. That's the reason I was fast – because of where I was running. Even though this isn't the Southern 500, it is pretty damn cool to win at Darlington, no matter when it is."

The next NASCAR Cup Series race will be at Dover Intl. Speedway, next Sunday, May 16.

• Click HERE for the Race Results


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