DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) — Martin Truex Jr. has already won two of NASCAR’s most coveted races. Now, he’s seeking a much bigger honor.
Truex led the final 28 laps and held off the Kevin Harvick’s powerhouse car to win the Southern 500, closing the summer season with a second of Sprint Cup’s “crown jewel” races on Labor Day weekend. She began things by winning at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Memorial Day weekend.
Truex stamped himself as a contender to be reckoned with when the Sprint Cup playoffs start in two weeks.
“We’re hungry. We’re working hard,” Truex said. “This is just the beginning for us, I think.”
Many others think that, too, especially after Truex patiently stayed in the top 10 throughout and pounced when the opportunity struck, moving past leader Ryan Newman and never surrendering the top spot.
It was Truex’s sixth fifth NASCAR win and first in 11 career Darlington races.
Crew chief Cole Pearn said winning two crown jewel races in a season is something special, but the team’s focus is on the championship Chase that starts at Chicagoland Speedway in two weeks.
“You’ve got to take the highs when they’re here and then get back to work,” he said.
Truex pulled up to the inside wall to greet his crew after the win, then taking off for some celebration donuts at the track “Too Tough To Tame.”
Harvick, who led 214 of 367 laps, had some words for his crew, too — much angrier and pointed about their poor performance in the pits. During one 16.6-second stop, Harvick fell from first to 12th and while he got to back to second, correctly said on the radio after that stop, “It’s pretty much over at this point.”
The 2014 Sprint Cup champion said it was time for the crew to perform. “I’m over being a cheerleader. Those guys get paid a lot of money to perform on pit road and cheerleading really hasn’t been working,” he said. “You’ve got to get after it on pit road and do your job.”
Last week’s winner at Michigan, Kyle Larson, finished third and Denny Hamlin was fourth. Joey Logano was fifth, followed by Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott.
It’s the second time in the past six Southern 500s that single-car Furniture Row Racing wound up in victory lane. Regan Smith stunned the Sprint Cup garage in 2011 with his win here.
Truex, among the four finalists in last year’s championship Chase, is locked in again this year and has stamped himself a significant contender for the Sprint Cup crown.
“It was definitely worth the wait,” he said.
WHO’S HOT: Kyle Larson followed up his win at Michigan last week with a third-place at Darlington. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver led 45 laps and felt good about running up front for a second straight race.
WHO’S NOT: Jimmie Johnson had his troubles at Darlington where he’s won three times. He was called pass-through penalty after his crew made a modification on pit road NASCAR didn’t like, then fell two laps down. On lap 214, Johnson spun out and slid into the inside wall. His crew brought the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports machine behind the wall. It was Johnson’s ninth finish outside the top 10 in his last 12 races, not the form his team hoped to have in chasing a seventh Sprint Cup title.
THEY SAID IT: “It’s kind of like an out of body experience,” Tony Stewart on the radio while watching his old, Home Depot-style paint scheme being driven by Carl Edwards in the Southern 500.
THE BIG ONE: That involved Tony Stewart, too. The three-time series champ making his final run at Darlington was trying to get out lapped car Brian Scott. When that didn’t work at first, Stewart looked like he nudged Scott’s bumper and sent him spinning. Scott thought Stewart was mad at him and ran into him on purpose. “I’m not sure if he thought I was trying to hold him up. I wasn’t,” Scott said. The move also picqued NASCAR’s interest. Officials called Stewart and crew chief Mike Bugarewicz to their hauler at the end. When told of NASCAR’s demand, Stewart said, “Hey man, made it 25 races, I’d say that’s pretty good.”
UP NEXT: Richmond International Raceway, Richmond, Virginia, Sept. 10. Matt Kenseth is the defending champion.