As has happened in several races this season, Martin Truex Jr. settled for a finish at Bristol that didn’t reflect the strength of his car. The driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota finished 14th after running as high as second.
And to add salt to the wound, he rebounded twice from loose wheels, both of which occurred when he was running in the top five.
“We had another strong Toyota Camry today, but the finish obviously didn’t match the performance,” Truex Jr said. “We were contending and had a fast car. But that loose wheel near the end of the race spoiled an excellent opportunity.
“Considering what we had to deal with, salvaging a 14th-place finish was not all that bad.”
Truex’s crew chief, Cole Pearn, echoed his driver’s sentiments regarding the strength of the car and team and the final position when the checkered flag flew.
“No question, we were better than our finish,” Pearn said. “Martin did an awesome job all day, and overall it was a good performance weekend. We were also good in qualifying (eighth) and during the practice sessions.”
This pattern of having a good race car and yet not getting the finish he deserved occurred at least two other times in Truex’s season to date. The first, and most hurtful to the team, was the 32nd-place finish in the Auto Club 400 in California.
Truex led 21 laps and ran in the top five for much of the contest until he got tangled up with Joey Logano as the laps were winding down.
“He just ran me over,” Truex said of Logano after that race. “It’s ridiculous. We had a great car all day and (I) hate for my guys we’ve got nothing to show for it.”
Even Logano acknowledged that was the case, apologizing and taking responsibility for ruining Truex’s good day.
“It was completely my fault,” Logano said. “I was going to go on the outside of him and he was going in on the top as well and I just ended up being right on him. I just got a little bit close to him and got him free, so I’m taking the hit on that one.”
While another driver ultimately caused Truex to have a less-than-stellar finish after having a well-performing race car in California, a self-inflicted wound caused a similar result in the Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. In that race, Truex paced the field six times for a race-high 141 laps, only to wind up with a sixth-place finish. The major cause was Truex staying out on older tires while leading the pack, only to be swallowed up on the restarts by those with fresher rubber.
“Everybody had new tires,” Truex said. “Pretty big disadvantage, but can’t say enough about the guys for the race car they brought here and the weekend we had. It hurts. It’s happened a few times to me now.
“We had the car to beat, but the best car doesn’t always win.”
Pearn again agreed with his driver, and said they were in a “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation,” when it came to tire strategy.
“You think the clean air is going to pay off more than tires,” Pearn said. “It’s just a tough spot to be in with the lead and having a dominant car. They’re going to do the opposite of whatever you’re going to do.”
Even fellow competitor Dale Earnhardt Jr. felt bad for his former teammate and friend after having such a good car and not achieving the desired finish.
“He had such a dominant car,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “But he’s just got to remember that he’s with such a good program now, he’s in a very good position personally and professionally, and that he’s got such a great crew chief and a great group of guys around him that he’s going to get opportunities like this again.”
While Truex wanted a Bristol finish indicative of the strength of his car, he can take solace in the fact that the 14th-place run was his highest finish at that track since racing with Furniture Row. His other runs with the team were 26th and 20th in 2014, and 29th and 28th in 2015.
Truex can also leave Bristol knowing that his 14th-place run tied his average finish of 14th there when he was with Michael Waltrip Racing from 2009 to 2013. And his 2016 Bristol finish bested his 24th-place average finish when he was with Earnhardt Ganassi in 2009 and his 25th-place average finish when he was with DEI from 2006 to 2008.
He can also take a bit of solace in that even with a top-15 run at Bristol, he gained one position in the point standings, climbing into the tenth spot.
Richmond is another short track that’s had mixed results for Truex, with finishes both reflective — and not so reflective — of the strength of his team. In the fall 2015 race, he finished 32nd, while in the spring race he ran in the top 10. And in 2014, he finished 25th in the fall and 10th in the spring race.
Truex’s best finish at Richmond was May 2008 when he finished fifth for DEI. He will no doubt hope to better that as he continues the short-track segment of the Sprint Cup schedule next weekend.
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