Richmond, Va. — Martin Truex Jr. seemed to have a ‘pinch me’ moment as he climbed from his car in Victory Lane.
Nudged off the lead with 87 laps to go, Truex rallied Saturday night, ultimately passing teammate Kyle Busch with 25 laps to go and winning his second consecutive NASCAR Cup Series race. That it came in the series’ playoffs, it seemed, made it all the more surreal.
“To spin and win is pretty incredible. I’ve never done anything like that in my life,” Truex said. “When things are rolling, they just are.”
The victory completed a redemptive finish for Truex, the championship leader coming into the race. The bump from Ricky Stenhouse, who was running on fresher tires, seemed inadvertent, and came in Turn Four, but Truex was still running third when the caution flew.
He gradually reeled in his teammate, got a nudge from Busch as he passed and pulled away.
“I think any time you’re winning at this level, there’s a little bit of a pinch me feeling,” Truex said. “Look, this is really, really difficult. These races are hard to win. … You’ve got to have some things go your ways sometimes and we’ve certainly had that the last two weeks.”
The victory was his series-high sixth of the season and the 15th in 28 races for the Gibbs cars. They also finished in the top four spots, a first for the company, with Busch hanging on for second followed by teammates Denny Hamlin and Erik Jones.
“We led a lot of laps. We were up front a lot. But when I was out front, he could keep the closest distance to me,” Busch said of Truex. “That kind of worried me for a finish like that in the long run.”
Pole-sitter Brad Keselowski (Rochester Hills) was fifth.
“We just weren’t quite as fast as the Gibbs cars,” Keselowski said, especially on long green-flag runs.
Truex swept the season at Richmond, where his victory in April was his first in 81 career starts on a short track.
Kevin Harvick and Busch, meanwhile, assured themselves of spots in the second stage of the playoffs, which begins after next week.
Hamlin said he was not at all surprised by his team’s domination.
“I think I knew that’s who we were going to be racing when it was all said and done,” he said. “The 19 just had such a strong car here on the long run over the last few years, we knew that was going to be the one to beat. … Great team day overall. Great points day for us.”
Colton Herta’s masterful debut weekend at Laguna Seca Raceway continued with a pole-winning run for the IndyCar season finale at Monterey, California.
The rookie has been fast in every session around the historic road course and has overshadowed the IndyCar championship race, which will be decided in the finale Sunday for the 14th consecutive year.
Andretti Autosport announced right before qualifying began that Herta will be brought inside its organization next season in a fifth entry, then the 19-year-old posted the fastest lap in qualifying to stack the four title contenders behind him. Scott Dixon qualified second and was followed by Alexander Rossi and Josef Newgarden. James Hinchcliffe, who is not in the championship hunt, was fifth. Indianapolis 500 winner Simon Pagenaud was sixth and lowest of the title contenders.
Newgarden has a 41-point lead over Rossi in the championship standings, and Sunday’s race is worth double points.
Herta, meanwhile, scored an extra point for winning the pole in what has become a tight race for rookie of the year. He’s third in the rookie standings behind Felix Rosenqvist and Santino Ferrucci, who have also been exceptionally fast all weekend.
Rosenqvist was furious after qualifying because he was penalized during his run for bringing out a local yellow. The punishment prevented him from advancing into the next round and ruined what he expected to be a strong starting spot.
The Swede railed against the decision and wondered if IndyCar had deliberately punished him to help Herta win rookie of the year.
Rosenqvist will start 14th, lowest of the rookie contenders. Ferrucci qualified 12th.
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc claimed a third straight Formula One pole position on Saturday after outpacing championship leader Lewis Hamilton in qualifying for the Singapore Grand Prix.
Leclerc clocked a lap of 1 minute, 36.217 seconds at the 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) Marina Bay street circuit, beating Hamilton by 0.191 seconds. Leclerc’s teammate Sebastian Vettel was third.
“If you look at the lap, it was a good lap, but there were some moments that I lost control,” Leclerc said. “We brought some new bits that worked properly, which was good to see. I had a very tough Friday and didn’t feel comfortable in the car, but we worked hard and it paid off.”
Leclerc has won the previous two races. After his first-ever F1 victory in Spa at the Belgian GP, the 21-year-old Leclerc became the first Ferrari driver to win the Italian GP since Fernando Alonso in 2010.
Hamilton holds a 63-point lead over Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas with seven races remaining.
“I don’t know where Ferrari picked up their pace, it’s not usually one of their circuits,” Hamilton said. “But they did a great job, Charles did some great laps. Hopefully we can be in the mix with them tomorrow. I think we can be aggressive.”
While Hamilton already has eight wins this season, his last came at the Hungarian GP in early August.
Pole position in Singapore is crucial as its one of the hardest tracks for overtaking in F1. The driver leading the field has won eight times in the past 11 years.
Hamilton has won in Singapore the past two years. Another victory in Sunday’s night race would move the Briton a step closer to his third straight championship and sixth overall, one shy of Michael Schumacher’s record of seven titles.
Vettel, whose contract ends in 2020, is on a 13-month winless streak. His last victory was at the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix.
Vettel and Hamilton are the only two drivers on the grid with victories at Singapore – with four wins each.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was fourth, almost four-tenths behind Vettel. Bottas was fifth for Mercedes ahead of Red Bull’s Alex Albon.
Carlos Sainz Jr. took seventh place for McLaren in front of the Renault of Daniel Ricciardo.
Nico Hulkenberg was ninth in the second Renault with McLaren’s Lando Norris rounding out the top 10.