Denny Hamlin led the most laps, and Ryan Blaney had the best long-run car, but Martin Truex Jr. overcame both to win the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 to become the first multi-race winner of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season.
Truex had a quiet afternoon despite spending most of the race inside the top-10. That’s because Hamlin, Blaney and the race’s numerous incidents demanded all of the attention. Even when Truex took the lead on Lap 485, all eyes shifted to Hamlin’s battle with Chase Elliot for second.
Elliot passed Hamlin for the position.
Initially, Hamlin beat Truex on the Lap 459 restart, but as the short-run turned into a long-run, his FedEx Camry faded. He did all he could to hold off Truex, but Truex ran him up the track to claim first. Hamlin battled with Elliot, allowing Truex to pull away and win by 1.97 seconds.
The 276 laps Hamlin led are a career-high for the 17-year veteran at Martinsville. A surprising stat considering Hamlin has five Cup Series and two Camping World Truck Series wins at Martinsville. His car was totally geared towards short runs which proved to be a good strategy as the race had 15 cautions. But the 42-lap run at the end was too much for Hamlin’s car.
Blaney had a dominant car on long runs, which helped him lead 157 laps and win both stages. Pit strategies shuffled him to the middle of the pack at the beginning of stage three, but he and his Pennzoil Mustang proved just as dominant in dirty air. By Lap 450 he was back to racing for the lead. Blaney seemed ready to pass Hamlin before Chase Briscoe spun out to cause the last caution.
That’s when disaster befell the No. 12 team.
A crewman trapped a hose under the front of the car. When Blaney drove away, the hose and air gun went with him. NASCAR penalized Blaney and sent him to 19th (last car on the lead lap). With only 42 laps left, Blaney needed a miracle to win. Ultimately, he battled back to 11th and because he won both stages, Blaney left Martinsville with 46 points. Only three drivers earned more points.
The Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 featured 13 incident cautions, including a 12-car pile-up on Lap 387. A bit of controversial contact between Chris Buescher and Kyle Busch caused the mess. Multiple drivers had their races ended because of the wreck including Brad Keselowski, Alex Bowman and Daniel Suarez. Matt DiBenedetto narrowly escaped the crash and he rallied to finish 12th.
The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action next Sunday at Richmond Raceway.
TOP IMAGE: James Gilbert/Getty Images