Martin Truex Jr. nearly pulled it off. Facing obstacles even before the race at Texas even started, Truex needed nothing short of a win.
He almost accomplished that feat.
The trouble for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver started even before the green flag Sunday. His Toyota failed pre-race inspection twice. NASCAR took the rear spoiler. The No. 19 team was fined $35,000, lost 20 driver and owner points and gave up sixth in the starting lineup falling to the rear of the field. The team also lost crew chief James Small for the race as he was ejected after the failure.
Sunday prior to the rain halting the race Truex rallied to fifth. Like the rest of the field he was forced to wait tow full days and much of Wednesday before the weather cleared, and the race was re-started. He led 53 laps and finished second in both stages.
In the end however, he wasn’t able to get by his teammate Kyle Busch coming in second by .468 of a second.
“I had a lot of confidence in it,” Truex said of his car. “In the 50 whatever laps we ran there on Sunday. We had to start at the rear and quickly worked our way up through the field, and definitely had a good feeling for the car balance‑wise and speed‑wise and felt like the longer we were going there, the better it was getting.
“Definitely was optimistic, and today we had to make some adjustments, obviously, with it being colder and then racing into the night, we were adjusting on the car the whole race, but guys did a good job, and obviously had a good car.”
“I felt like we had pretty much a flawless race. Just needed a tiny little bit more speed or a little bit more luck out there at the end with the 18 and fuel‑wise.”
As for the penalty Sunday in pre-race inspection, he wasn’t sure what the issue was.
“My guess is that it was something very, very minuscule from what James said,” he said. “But I really don’t know what it was, whether it would have made a difference or not. I can’t tell you. I think for me I just go to the race and say, okay, we’re behind the 8‑ball and you’ve got to do what you can do to try to win, and that’s what we did.”
Truex said he was happy to have an opportunity for his car chief, Blake Harris, a chance to take over as crew chief for the weekend after Small was ejected.
“It’s really cool to get him on the box today. This is his home state of Texas. We really wanted to get him that win. I was hoping ‑‑ I joked with him, hopefully you’re a good luck charm here at Texas because we’ve been second here before and we’ve been so close here so many times. A little bit disappointed in that, but proud of him and proud of the whole team for their effort.”
While a second-place finish is admirable, when it comes to making the Final 4 in the Playoffs, it does little to help Truex. Even teammate Kyle Busch, who won, was aware he denied Truex.
“I feel like crap,” Busch said. “The 19 needed to win a race, obviously, in order to move on and punch their ticket to the Championship Round, and I’m that guy that spoils it for them, and that was one of their best mile‑and‑a‑half runs that they’ve had this year, just like our best mile‑and‑a‑half run this year, arguably.
“You know, I’m thinking of that as we’re coming down to the finish, too, but I’m like, I’ve got to win, man. Like there’s obviously no team orders and we do things straight up and as fast as we can be, we’ve got to be. Obviously it sucks for them, and I did think, too, that they can be really good at Martinsville, so hopefully they can go out there and do well, maybe win again. I’d like to win Martinsville. It would really suck again if he finishes second to me, but that would be 2020, wouldn’t it?”
The final chance for Truex to make the Final 4 will come in just a few days when the Cup series races at Martinsville. Truex should have a lot of confidence as he has won the last two races at Martinsville including last fall’s race and the June race there this season.
“I mean, a must‑win at any track, no matter how good you’ve been there in the past, I think is a challenge,” Truex said. “The last race there that we ran and delete all the laps that we did, whatever, it’s no guarantee. We’ve got to work hard this week to make sure we’re prepared. I know the guys have already been doing that. So definitely optimistic. It’s a good track for us, but it’s a short track and a lot can happen on restarts and things.
“We’ll go there and do the best job we can.”