Martin Truex Jr. finished second in the Cup standings for the third time in four years but that second title remained just out of reach.
Editor‘s Note: This continues the series of season reviews for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs drivers.
Driver: Martin Truex Jr.
Car: No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry
Crew chief: James Small
Final 2021 ranking: 2nd
Key stats: 4 wins, 13 top fives, 20 top 10s, 865 laps led
How 2021 ended:
After advancing to the Championship 4 for the fourth time in the past five seasons, Martin Truex Jr. found himself leading the NASCAR Cup Series championship race with 30 laps left in the 2021 season. But a late caution brought with it another round of pit stops, and the No. 19 team was beaten out of the pits by Kyle Larson. Truex restarted alongside Larson on the front row and challenged him throughout the race‘s final stretch, but Truex was forced to settle for second, 0.398 seconds short of a second Cup title.
By the time NASCAR rolled in Darlington Raceway in May, Truex had already banked wins at Phoenix Raceway and Martinsville Speedway. That May afternoon at the track Too Tough to Tame, though, was the race that made everyone aware the No. 19 team was for real.
Truex led 248 of 293 laps at Darlington en route to his third victory of 2021, sweeping the stages and absolutely dominating the competition. The only visible moment of concern for the No. 19 team came at the end of Stage 1. While lapping the No. 00 Chevrolet of Quin Houff, Truex got loose and slid across Houff‘s nose. That allowed Truex‘s JGR teammate Denny Hamlin to close to his rear bumper for the stage win, but Truex managed to gather control of the car and barely hold off Hamlin.
Other season highlights:
Martin Truex Jr. is not known for his abilities on dirt, but the inaugural Bristol Motor Speedway dirt race resulted in a fantastic performance for the veteran driver. Hours after winning the Camping World Truck Series debut on Bristol‘s dirt and his first Truck win, Truex went on to lead 126 of 253 laps in the Cup race. Truex‘s demise that day, however, was a flat right-front tire that reared its head on an overtime restart, plummeting Truex from third all the way back to 19th place, the final spot on the lead lap.
Richmond Raceway also proved to be a strong track for the No. 19 yet again. During the spring race, Truex started on the pole and led 107 laps before notching a fifth-place finish, then followed that up in the Playoffs by leading 80 circuits en route to his fourth and final victory of 2021. That Richmond win propelled Truex into the Round of 12 and helped fuel an eventual Championship 4 run.
Stat to know:
The No. 19 team shined brightest at 750-horsepower paved ovals this season. With 12 races on such tracks in 2021, Truex earned each of his four wins at 750-HP ovals to go along with eight top fives and nine top 10s and an average finish of 6.6. Comparatively, the No. 19 team notched just three top fives on 550-HP ovals this season in 12 such events with an average finish of 10.9.
Truex also finished runner-up in the Cup Series standings for the third time in the past four seasons, with 2020‘s seventh-place result as the lone anomaly.
“I have no idea how we finished fourth. I‘m gonna buy a lottery ticket on the way home.” — Martin Truex Jr. after heavy contact with the wall late at Martinsville on Oct. 31 didn‘t keep from advancing through to the Championship 4
Truex has an average finish of a staggering 2.8 in the final Cup Series standings over the past five years. Yet for all his success, the 2017 season marks his only triumph as a Cup Series champion. As the series shifts to the Next Gen car, Truex eyes what should be another strong pursuit toward becoming a two-time title winner.