Martin Truex Jr. used a crafty gambit and a little bit of acting from his crew to win the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday.

Martin Truex Jr. NASCAR
Martin Truex Jr. celebrates after winning the Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday. (Image: Pat Brandon/Daily Republic)

The win gave Truex his third victory on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this season.

Pit Stop Fake Out

Heading into the tail end of the 110-lap road-course race, Truex was running in second place, and it seemed as though he would have little hope of catching Kevin Harvick.

Thats when crew chief Cole Pearn decided to call in Truex for a pit stop on the 73rd lap. Hearing that news over the radio, Harvick crew chief Rodney Childers called in his driver as well to keep them on equal footing.

But Pearn had another strategy in mind. At the last moment, he called off the pit stop, allowing Truex to take the lead as Harvick pitted. The move surprised even Truex.

As far as he knew, we were pitting, Pearn said after the race. Id like to say were smart enough to use codes, but were not. Wed probably mess it up.

Truex still had to pit, doing so on Lap 81. But waiting that long meant he was clear to run the rest of the race without any more stops. Meanwhile, Harvick had to make another trip to pit road on Lap 92. After that stop, Truex held a nearly 24 second lead over Chase Elliot.

Truex Eases to Victory

That meant that only a caution would potentially allow the rest of the field back into the race. But the entire final stage was run under the green flag from Lap 55 to the finish.

All youre doing is begging, hoping the caution doesnt come out, Truex said about the final laps of the race. Then youd have to pit, and you dont know what could happen. It messes the field up. Just hoping for no cautions and dont make any mistakes and hope the engine stays together.

Truex eased up to play it safe in the final laps, still finishing with a comfortable 10.5-second lead over Harvick. Clint Bowyer finished third, with Chase Elliot and Kyle Busch rounding out the top five.

Harvick acknowledged that the clever ruse from Truexs team made the difference, but didnt lay the blame on his team for taking the bait.

We all make mistakes, Harvick said after the race. We all do things split-second that might be right after it all happens. But these guys do a great job.

Truexs third win of the season puts him in elite company. Only Harvick (five) and Busch (four) have won more often on the NASCAR Cup Series this year. The only other driver with multiple victories this year is Bowyer, with two.

The win also moved Truex up to fifth overall in the NASCAR Cup Series standings. Busch still leads, with Harvick 72 points back in second place.

Those three have also become the clear championship contenders in recent weeks. Heading into Sundays race, Harvick (5/2) was the favorite to win the NASCAR title according to Sportsbook.ag, with Busch (3/1) and defending champions Truex (7/2) right behind him.

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