Martin Truex Jr. fights ill-handling car to stay above cut line

From a handling standpoint, the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota of defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. was pure evil on Sunday at Talladega.

Truex fought the car from the outset, and no amount of tinkering by his crew on pit road could define and fix the problem. Truex had no choice but to run in the back of the field and try to stay out of trouble.

The only breaks he got came late—a late caution that gave him a chance to come to pit road for new tires for a two-lap overtime and his deft avoidance of serious damage in a Turn 1 wreck on the final lap.

Truex salvaged a 23rd-place finish, ahead of Playoff contenders Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney, who had to pit for fuel before the last restart. As a result, Truex heads for next Sunday’s Round of 12 elimination race at Kansas Speedway 18 points ahead of Keselowski in ninth place and 22 ahead of Blaney in 10th.

“It didn’t really matter what we did to the car,” Truex said. “It (the problem) didn’t go away. We tried a lot of stuff. It was tough to drive. It couldn’t even go straight. I could run hard for two or three laps. As soon as the tires got some air pressure, I was just hanging on. The longer the runs were, the worse it got.

“There was no chance of me just getting up there and racing. I wanted to. Luckily, we were able to get some tires there in the end. I could go for about three laps. I felt good going to the green-white checkered. They wrecked in front of us, and we barely made it through. As soon as we got through there, I was able to salvage something.”