DARLINGTON, S.C. — Martin Truex Jr. got nervous in a hurry near the end of his dominant run Sunday afternoon at Darlington Raceway.
Barely pushed much of the race, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver suddenly saw Hendrick Motorsports' Kyle Larson catching up in the closing laps. Truex, though, called on his steady demeanor and track focus to pull away for his third NASCAR Cup Series victory this season. He's the only driver with multiple wins through the year's first 12 races.
Not that this one was easy. When Truex noticed Larson right behind him inside of 30 laps left, he thought, "Oh, man, he's right behind me.
"Your heart rate goes up," he continued, "Your anxiety goes up."
Very quickly, though, Truex was back in control at the track "Too Tough To Tame."
"Hopefully, we can keep this rolling," he said.
Larson charged hard to catch up, even using a dramatic sliding pass between Ryan Newman and Tyler Reddick to keep chasing the lead.
"Glad I didn't wreck there," Larson said with a smile.
Team owner Joe Gibbs told Truex after the race that Larson gave him a scare.
"Yeah, he scared me, too," Truex said he told Gibbs.
The victory gave Truex some payback at Darlington from the previous Cup Series race here last September, when he led 196 laps yet finished 22nd after tangling for the lead late with Chase Elliott, who went on to win the season championship in November.
This time, Truex made sure he had no trouble by running out front — often holding a 10-second lead on the field — to win for the second time at Darlington. He led 248 of the 293 laps for his 30th career victory on NASCAR's top circuit.
"It's fun when you're out front," said the 40-year-old Truex, who won the 2017 Cup Series title and was the season runner-up in 2018 and 2019 before finishing seventh last year. "You're always just mindful on staying focused on what you're doing."
No one was more focused at Darlington than Truex.
He took control midway through the first of three stages, moving in front on a restart and settling in for a long ride up front. Truex led the final 21 laps to take the first stage, then the last 36 as he collected the second stage win by some 14 seconds over JGR teammate Kyle Busch.
Truex broke out when racing resumed for the final stage and easily managed a couple of rounds of green-flag pit stops to stay ahead in his No. 19 Toyota.
Larson was second in a Chevrolet, with Busch third and Hendrick's William Byron fourth. JGR's Denny Hamlin, who came in as the season points leader, was fifth.
Kurt Busch seemed like he was headed for big things at Darlington when he gave the track one of its most iconic moments, finishing second in 2003 to Ricky Craven in a side-by-side duel in which he lost by 0.002 second. He hasn't come that close to a Darlington victory in 22 races since.
The 2004 season champion's latest Darlington start ended in flames after he hit the inside wall and the liquid his car spewed caught on fire. After 106 laps, his race was over.
Said the Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who was not hurt in the incident: "It's been a rough year, and this just adds to it."
F1: Hamilton rallies
MONTMELÓ, Spain — At least Max Verstappen made Mercedes work for the win.
Verstappen got a great jump on Lewis Hamilton at the start of the Spanish Grand Prix to take an early lead over the seven-time and reigning Formula One champion, but Mercedes stopped a Red Bull runaway by using strategy and fresh tires to push Hamilton to his record-extending 98th career victory.
It was the third win in four races to start the season for Hamilton, who extended his lead to 14 points over Verstappen in a season championship fight already off to an intense start. Verstappen won the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix last month.
"I am beginning to love this battle we are having," said Hamilton, who started in pole position for the 100th time, extending another F1 record the 36-year-old British driver holds. "Red Bull has started incredibly strong. With Max, they have a championship-winning car. We have to bring our A game every week."
Mercedes outwitted Red Bull by using a two-stop strategy that helped Hamilton make it look easy: Verstappen led 54 of 66 laps and Hamilton still beat him by 15.8 seconds.
Hamilton used a fresh set of tires to overcome a 22-second gap and pass Verstappen with six laps remaining. He tied Michael Schumacher's mark of six victories at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, including five straight.
Verstappen was disheartened after leading 54 laps but he didn't have the pace that Hamilton had once Mercedes decided it would go with a two-stop strategy. Red Bull chose to make only one pit stop.
Valtteri Bottas finished third to give Mercedes two drivers on the podium, but at one point he was ordered by Mercedes not to slow Hamilton as his teammate raced for the lead. Charles Leclerc finished fourth for Ferrari, and Sergio Pérez rallied from eighth to take fifth in the second Red Bull car.
The series returns May 23 at the Monaco GP.