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Martin Truex Jr. 2nd in Wild Food City 500

Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano do battle at the Food City 500 at Bristol. (Photo: Josh James | The Podium Finish)

BRISTOL, Tenn. — After a grueling battle of survival, Martin Truex Jr. surged to his first top-five finish of the 2024 season in the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Extreme tire wear and uncertain adjustments were the name of the game on St. Patrick’s Day, as cars started to fade after just 40 laps on a fresh set of Goodyear Eagles. With such unpredictability dominating the day, it should not have been a surprise that Denny Hamlin and Truex, the two oldest full time drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series, swept the top two positions.

“Early in the race, went way too hard and realized your tires were gone,” the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion said. “And then, it’s like ‘alright, we can’t run as hard as we can.’ Just had to figure out how hard you could push it and what kind of lap times you could run throughout the run.”

The race saw 54 lead changes, a record for a short track race, and the Mayetta, New Jersey veteran accounted for eight of them and scored stage points in both opening stages, leading 54 laps.

For much of the race, the question of the day was not if a Joe Gibbs Racing car could win, but rather which of the four cars it would be.

Denny Hamlin, Ty Gibbs, Christopher Bell and Martin Truex Jr. at Bristol

Denny Hamlin leads his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates in Ty Gibbs, Christopher Bell and Martin Truex Jr. in Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol. (Photo: Josh James | The Podium Finish)

Throughout the majority of the day, it appeared that Ty Gibbs was the favorite to score his first career win. He won both stages and overcame a pit road penalty for a race-leading +44 pass differential.

Surprisingly, considering the caution-ridden first 375 laps, the race ended with a 121-lap green flag run. Before tires once again gave way, the four JGR cars ran 1-2-3-4, setting a torrid pace ahead of fifth-place Brad Keselowski.

As the rest of the field, including Gibbs and Christopher Bell, faded behind them, Hamlin and Truex Jr. were able to stay out for much longer than anyone else. Lapped traffic became a huge deterrence given the varying tire wear, as Truex Jr. managed t0 lead lap 483, but fell back and had to settle for second, 1.083 seconds behind Hamlin.

Only five cars finished the 500-lap marathon on the lead lap. For Truex Jr., it was just the third top-five in 34 Bristol concrete starts.

“We just came out too far behind [Hamlin] there on the green flag pit stop,” Truex Jr. said. “I was right on his bumper when he pitted and when I came out, he was a straightaway ahead of us and just used my stuff up too much to try to get there… Just came up a little bit short there.”

Truex Jr. exited the Last Great Coliseum tied for the points lead with Kyle Larson. The series heads to Circuit of the Americas on Sunday, a track that Truex Jr. has recorded one top-10 at in three starts.

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