Martin Truex Jr. Sneaks by for Southern 500 Victory

For once, when it looked like it wasn’t going to be Martin Truex Jr.’s night, the racing gods were on his side. He drove his No. 78 car to victory in the Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on Saturday night, leading 28 of the 367 laps.

The win is Truex Jr.’s second of the season, as the Furniture Row Racing team also was victorious in the Coca-Cola 600, where they won in one of the most dominating ways in NASCAR history. Winning the Coke 600 and Southern 500 in the same year? That’s impressive. And don’t forget – he missed out on the Daytona 500 by a mere 0.01 seconds.

“This is unbelievable,” Truex Jr. told NBC “I’ve always loved this race track. I’ve led a lot of laps here in my career, but something always happens, and I’m so proud to get to Victory lane with this group. The pit crew was flawless tonight – they won us the race.

“They took a lot of heat for what happened last week,” he went on to say. The No. 78 team had a slow pit stop, resulting in a 20th place finish for them last weekend at Michigan International Speedway. “We’ve had a terrible streak of bad luck. I knew the bad luck would stop coming, and we’d start racking ’em off. The pit crew’s done a great job, but they did stumble last week, and this was a great way to make it up.”

However, as aforementioned, Truex Jr. was not the dominant car, Kevin Harvick was. However, circumstances dictated that the No. 4 wouldn’t find victory lane. After leading a race-high 214 laps from the pole, Harvick finished second. His 23rd second place finish since joining the No. 4 team for Stewart-Haas Racing at the start of the 2014 season – a staggering number.

Doing a complete 360 from Truex Jr.’s comments about his pit crew, to say Harvick was displeased would be putting it nicely. His pit crew lost him a whopping 17 positions throughout the evening. Harvick drove back through the field twice, but wasn’t able to get the win.

“I’m over being a cheerleader. Those guys get paid a lot of money to perform on pit road, and cheerleading hasn’t really been working,” Harvick told NBC’s Marty Snider. “You’ve got to get after it on pit road and do your job.” He also eclipsed the 10,000 laps led mark in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career midway through the race.

This has been a recurring issue that Harvick fans know all too well. SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli said that something needs to change with the No. 4 crew. But for the past two seasons, the same things have happened, and no big changes have been made. After falling from first to 12th place late in the race due to a bad pit stop, Harvick came over the radio and asked his team: “You don’t want to f*****g win, do you?”

Kyle Larson came home third after leading 45 laps. Denny Hamlin finished fourth, followed by Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth. Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott completed the top ten when the checkered flag flew.

However, the No. 42 of Larson and No. 31 of Newman both failed post-race laser inspection. Larson already has a win, and had clinched a playoff spot. But for Newman, who is currently just outside the top 16, a penalty could mean the end of his playoff chances.

Kyle Busch finished 11th, Jeff Gordon 14th, Jamie McMurray (currently 16th in points) 15th, Chris Buescher 17th, 2015 Darlington winner Carl Edwards 19th and Danica Patrick 24th.

Jimmie Johnson (33rd), Kurt Busch (34th), Tony Stewart (35th) and Greg Biffle (36th) were some other notable finishers on Saturday night who encountered some type of accident or engine failure.

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Richmond International Raceway next weekend for the Federated Auto Parts 400, the final race of the regular season before the playoffs officially begin. The Chase picture looks pretty clear, but if a driver like Ryan Newman, Ryan Blaney or AJ Allmendinger were to wind up in victory lane, it would punch their ticket.

The race will take place Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC.