By Dustin Albino

There are several tracks on the NASCAR schedule that Martin Truex Jr. has a fingerhold on. Throughout the years, however, Bristol Motor Speedway has been his kryptonite.

Entering Sunday‘s Food City 500 at the World‘s Fastest Half-Mile, Truex had an appalling two top-five finishes in 33 starts, with his last coming in 2012, when he was in the middle of his stint at Michael Waltrip Racing. His top 10 total at Bristol was four, a dissatisfying number for the 2017 Cup Series champion.

The elephant in the room, however, is Truex drives for Joe Gibbs Racing, one of the teams that is largely in control on short tracks. Just last week at the 1-mile Phoenix Raceway, Toyota led all but 14 laps of the race, when Todd Gilliland stayed out during a cycle of green-flag pit stops. The presumption was JGR would be elite again this weekend, as three of its drivers led north of 100 laps in the most recent Bristol race last fall. The one outlier was Truex, who clutched tightly onto one of the final transfer spots to the Round of 12.

An eventful practice and qualifying session on Saturday led to a chaotic 500-lap race on Sunday. It became apparent through the first stint of the race that tire wear was going to be a major concern. That continued on as the majority of the field had cars that became undrivable around the 40-lap marker. The Goodyear tire compound was the same that was raced last fall.

“Apparently that’s what I needed to have happen here at Bristol to have a shot at winning,” Truex said of the drastic tire fall off. “I guess this tire management thing fit into my wheelhouse here at Bristol.”

Once again, JGR dominated, with Ty Gibbs earning the first two stage victories of his career and leading a career-high 137 laps. Truex earned stage points in both stages, and he was a linchpin inside the top 10. During the second stage alone, the No. 19 Toyota paced the field on three separate occasions for a total of 17 laps. He led an additional five times in the final stage, ending the race with 54 laps led.

Truex swapped the lead late with Denny Hamlin, who led a race-high 163 laps. The No. 11 car got by Truex for the final time with 17 laps remaining, and ended the race a tick over one-second ahead of the No. 19 car. But it matched Truex‘s best career finish at the track (August of 2011).

“The difference was just coming out of the pits so far behind [Hamlin],” Truex said. “I had to use mine up more on the last run. The last four, five laps of the race, was cord.

“I gave it a hell of an effort. Our Toyotas are working really well right now. Had a lot of fun today. Wish we could have come up with one spot. Short on second. Good run for us. It’s been a great season for us.”

By scoring 44 points during the race, Truex is tied with Kyle Larson for the regular season championship lead. Bristol also snapped a skid of 17 straight finishes outside the top five, dating back to Michigan, last August.

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