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Martin Truex Jr. threw shade on 2019 South Point field

A later starting time for last year’s South Point 400 produced a cooler track and the re-emergence of one of NASCAR’s coolest heads.

With the track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway shielded from the hot desert sun for most of the race, Martin Truex Jr. drove from 24th starting position to a comfortable 4.1-second victory over Kevin Harvick. It was the second LVMS victory for Truex Jr., who raced into the top 10 before the sun set on the first of three race stages en route to locking himself and the No. 19 team into the second playoff round.

“We’ve had a stretch of six or seven races that we’ve been really strong in but honestly don’t have a whole lot to show for it,” said the 2017 Cup Series champion who would go on to finish second to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch in the championship. “But we knew we were really fast and working on the right things.

“When we can get things to roll our way and not make any mistakes, this is what we can do.”

It was a safe, competitive race with the lead swapping hands 24 times among 14 drivers. There were only two caution flags outside of the ones at the end of the race stages — a far cry from LVMS’ 2018 fall race on a sun-baked, slippery track that produced 15 yellows and multiple wrecks.

Truex Jr. led three times for 32 laps. He said the key to his race was making up positions at the start.

Charge to the front

“I think the start of the race is always a lot more calm than the restarts,” the New Jersey native said of his early charge. “Nobody really knows what they have yet, and everybody kind of feels their car out for a couple of laps.”

Harvick was delighted with his second-place finish after rolling off his hauler slower than molasses for practice.

“That we were in position to win the race there with 25 laps to go says a lot about the guys working on this No. 4 car,” said the 2014 NASCAR champion who led for 47 laps — second only to ninth-place finisher Joey Logano’s 105.

Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney completed the top five.

The late afternoon start also was popular with race fans.

The inaugural South Point 400 in 2018 attracted an all-time Las Vegas low crowd estimated at 45,000 that prompted the speedway to further reduce seating capacity to around 70,000. LVMS also asked NASCAR and TV partner NBC for a later starting time to offset the September heat and televised pro football.

It made a big difference. The estimated crowd was 52,000, and the frontstretch grandstand was nearly filled at the start of the race.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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