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Martin Truex Jr. headed into the Daytona 500 with an unpleasant statistic looming over his head. Of all the drivers in the field, his streak of 17 starts at the Great American Race without a victory was the longest. Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch was a close second at 16.

The race couldn’t have started any better for the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion. He won the first two stages. However, immediately after his second-stage win, instead a celebrating, he and crew chief James Smalls had a brief but surprisingly contentious exchange.   

Martin Truex Jr. wins first stage under caution

Martin Truex Jr. started 14th in his 18th attempt to win the Super Bowl of NASCAR. The No. 19 car showed speed early, and steadily made its way through the field. 

With three laps remaining in the first stage, the 41-year-old led the field when a nasty crash unfolded directly behind him, which involved multiple cars, including teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch, and rookie Harrison Burton, who got the worst of it and went airborne, landed on his roof, before flipping right-side up. 

The first stage ended under caution and Truex grabbed the first stage win of the season. 

Truex Jr. pulls off late move to win second stage, then has contentious exchange with crew chief

In the second stage, Truex remained up near the front within striking distance of the lead. Heading into the final lap, he rode third behind a pair of Fords and former Penske teammates, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. 

Halfway around the 2.5-mile track, Truex followed Logano on the outside and moved past Keselowski. Coming out of Turn 4, the No. 19 car had a huge run, dropped down inside the No. 22 of Logano, and dashed for the start-finish line, where he edged out the 2018 Cup champ by less than half a car length.  

Moments after crossing the finish line, Truex’s crew chief James Smalls congratulated his driver and then sent him a message.

“You just need to calm down in there, man,” Smalls told him. “Let us call the race. You drive the f****** car. We’re better, OK?”

“Man, you need to calm down,” Truex fired back. “It’s all good. I just didn’t like it there for a couple (of laps).”  

Finishes 13th and misses out on 18th attempt to win Daytona 500


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While Martin Truex Jr. impressively won the first two stages and the accompanying points, which could come in handy at the season’s end, he, more than anyone else, knows how difficult it is to cross the finish line first on the most important lap.  

With 50 laps remaining in the race and riding in 10th position on the outside lane, Truex was caught up in a crash that started when Tyler Reddick spun in front of him. The JGR car slammed hard into the No. 8 and sustained damage to front of the car. 

After the pit crew worked on the car under caution, Truex returned to the race and finished a respectable 13th, his best finish in six years. Unfortunately, victory had eluded him for an 18th time. But as they say in sports, there’s always next year.

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