‘Monday Martin’: Truex Jr. returns to Dover’s victory lane

NASCAR legend Bobby Allison presents the golden Monster Mile trophy to Martin Truex Jr. follwing Monday’s victory in the Gander RV 400 at Dover International Speedway. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — Rainy days at Dover never bring Martin Truex Jr. down.

In fact, Truex became the winningest driver in rain-delayed Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races at Dover International Speedway history on Monday as he roared from the rear of the field in capturing the Gander RV 400 on a puffy-cloud afternoon.

It was a throwback to 2007, when Truex recorded his first career Cup Series victory at Dover in the last rain-delayed Monday race at the track known as the Monster Mile.

It was a remarkable run for both Truex and surprise runner-up finisher Alex Bowman, who both started from the rear of the 37-car field after being penalized by NASCAR after their race cars failed pre-race inspection twice on Sunday.

“We had to start from the back, so it was pretty tough, but this feels pretty awesome right now,” said Truex who posted his third career win at Dover in the No. 19 SiriusXM-sponsored Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. “I think the first race I won was on a Monday here at Dover and it was awesome to be able get another one here.”

Truex held a 9.501-second cushion over Bowman when he drove under the checkered flag at Dover’s one-mile concrete oval to put an exclamation mark on this weekend’s 50th anniversary celebration for the Monster Mile. He was awarded the special edition gold-plated Monster Trophy in victory lane.

“Thanks to all these fans for coming out to watch the race on a Monday,” Truex said. “This is awesome. Just look at all these fans.”

Tire smoke surrounds Martin Truex Jr.’s car as he completes a burnout celebration after his victory.

Kyle Larson managed to finish in third place, followed by Kevin Harvick and pole-sitter Chase Elliott.

Truex and Bowman started from the back but worked their way through the traffic with steady hands. By lap 90, Truex had moved up to eighth place and Bowman 10th, making the biggest gains on track of all the drivers.

“I promise it wasn’t easy,” said Truex, who earned his 21st career victory. “It was all work and it was tough, but this race car was just incredible. Thanks to everybody that makes this all possible.”

Daniel Suarez held the lead for several laps by remaining out on the race track during the final green-flag pit stops.

However, Truex bounced back into the lead when Suarez hit pit road with 53 laps remaining.

Truex took the lead and kept expanding it from there.

Bowman was happy to tie his best career finish with a second-place effort, especially after finishing runner-up at Talladega Superspeedway last weekend.

“I’m worn out,” he said. “This is the physically hardest race of the year for me, for sure. We at least had a shot at it and that’s really all you can ask for.”

Larson managed to avoid the bad luck that has plagued him most of this season for his third-place finish.

“The last run there after we cycled through the pit stops, I was really loose and we got stuck in traffic,” Larson said. “I wanted to make sure I hit the bottom (of the track) so I could hold Harvick off.

Martin Truex Jr. waves his fist as he crosses the finish line to win the Gander RV 400 at Dover International Speedway on Monday.

“It was good to finally have a clean race. I don’t think we’ve had a clean weekend all year long and we’re already 11 or 12 weeks into the season. It was a nice day.”

The race featured several different personalities throughout the day as Elliott led the most laps in the race with 146 in the first half while Truex led a second-best 132 laps, later in the event.

Elliott pulled away from the drop of the green flag and held about a one-second lead over Joey Logano when NASCAR threw a competition caution flag on lap 40 so the pit crews could check out their tire wear after Sunday’s rain showers washed the rubber off the high banks of the one-mile oval.

Faster speeds at Dover this weekend due to race cars having 750 horsepower and more downforce as part of a new package and a “green” race track had raised NASCAR’s concerns, so they called for the mandatory caution. Goodyear engineers examined some of the team’s tires following the pit stops and said they were showing “expected wear.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. brought out the day’s second yellow flag on lap 106 when he blew out a right-front tire entering the first turn and slammed hard into the outside wall.

Logano assumed the lead during pit stops under the caution when his pit crew, along with Willian Byron’s, changed only two tires while Elliott dropped to fifth place after changing four tires.

Logano held onto the lead following a one-lap shootout at the end of the race’s first 120-lap stage after Quin Houff blew a tire and crashed into the outside wall in turn one.

Joey Logano

However, Logano and Byron were forced to pit in the caution period following the first stage, dropping them back to 24th and 25th place, respectively, as Brad Keselowski inherited the lead at the start of stage two.

Keselowski remained in front until a round of green flag pit stops put Elliott back on top of the leaderboard on lap 190.

Bowman rallied past Elliott as he dove to the inside, entering turn 1 on lap 224 and into the top spot.

Truex finally rose into the lead on lap 240 when Bowman went into the first turn too hard, rising up near the outside wall, which allowed Truex to take command on the inside as he came out ahead at the end of the second stage on lap 240.

Truex and Bowman pulled away at the front when the third stage began with 150 laps to go before Denny Hamlin blew a right-rear tire entering the third turn. He tried to limp around to pit road for service before he finally spun out on the apron in the second turn, bringing out the sixth caution of the race.

Truex, with the exception of the laps led by Suarez during the final green flag pit cycle, dominated the last 53 miles of the race.

Erik Jones finished sixth, with Joey Logano, William Byron, Clint Bowyer and Kyle Busch rounding out the top 10. Daniel Suarez just missed his fifth straight top-10 finish at Dover as he came in 11th.

It turned out to be yet some more home cooking for Truex, who lives in Mayetta, New Jersey, and considers Dover his home track.

“It feels incredible,” said Truex, who moved along with his crew chief Cole Pearn to the Joe Gibbs Racing team this season after his former Furniture Row race team closed last year. “I’m so thankful for this team and what a race car we had. It was just incredible.

“We have a hell of a team and we came here with a new setup this time because we had kind of an older set-up that we won with in 2016 and it was good, but not good enough. I’m just really, really proud to drive these Toyotas. They’re awesome and I’m a really lucky guy.”

He now has his third Monster Trophy — this one golden — to prove it.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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