Martin Truex Jr. had a rare off day Sunday at Michigan. At one point, the reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup champion and one of the so-called “Big 3” drivers was leading and a contender, but later stumbled a bit and for the second time in the last three races finished outside the top 10.
After starting 7th, Truex struggled early nearly spinning out on the opening laps. On lap 10 William Byron slipped up the track entering turn 1 and made contact with Truex sending his Toyota into a spin. While Byron’s Chevy made hard contact with the wall, Truex expertly maneuvered his car keeping it off the wall.
“When you’re 90 degrees to the race track and you’re really fast, you know the car is trying to go that way towards the fence and all you can do is spin the tires and just mat it and hope for the best,” Truex said. “Thankfully I was able to keep it out of the fence. One of them deals, William (Byron), rookie mistake – he just drove in there way too deep. I was just going to give him the middle lane. When you’re racing side-by-side, you have to go to the bottom, the inside guy has to go to the bottom. He tried to go to the middle and I tried to move up and I gave him plenty of room – I was in the third groove and he had too much speed. Dumb move on his part that early in the race without a question, but we recovered from it and luckily we didn’t get torn up in it too bad.”
After a tire change, Truex was able to rally back and finished fifth in the first stage. During the ensuing pit stops an issue lost him 8 spots. With fuel strategy Truex led 25 laps during Stage 2 and was hoping to have enough fuel to win the stage; those hopes ended when he ran out of fuel two laps before the end of the stage. He was forced to first slow down, then pit. Then penalized since he pits were closed. To add insult to injury, the crew was also penalized for an uncontrolled tire.
Time ran out and Truex was forced to settle for 14th.
“We had a rough day for sure, everything that could go wrong, did,” Truex said. “We got wrecked early by a rookie mistake underneath us and then ran out of gas – could have won the second stage, we just ran out of gas.”
The 14th place finish came after a 15th place finish at Pocono two races ago, but on the heels of a runner-up at Watkins Glen last Sunday. Sunday’s finish at Michigan however was most likely due to a series of unfortunate events, rather than struggles for the team.
“We just couldn’t catch a break,” Truex said. “We kept losing track position and then we got a lap down. We never could get on the right end of things. We had a good car and that was cool because we worked hard on it today and we learned a lot this weekend.”