Martin Truex Jr. loses Michigan win to Larson on late restart

Logan Whitton/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

BROOKLYN, Mich. — Until the day’s final restart, it looked like Martin Truex Jr. had done it again.

Having already tallied his 15th stage win of the year – no one else has more than nine – Truex was driving off to what appeared a near-certain victory during the final stage of Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

Even a Lap 187 caution for debris wasn’t enough to rattle the veteran, as he drove off from teammate Erik Jones to hold the lead. Not that he didn’t disagree with the call.

“It’s typical,” Truex said of the caution. “You just never know. There was no debris on the race track that I saw when that first one came out and cautions breed cautions at the end of these things.”

Only a final caution on Lap 197, and subsequent red flag for fluid and restart, would be enough to end Truex’s day in defeat.

Truex maintained the top spot to the start-finish line to begin NASCAR Overtime, but lost the lead only moments later as fourth-place Kyle Larson, who had pitted under the prior yellow, dove under Truex and passed both he and second-place Erik Jones for the lead on the race’s penultimate lap.

Afterward Truex claimed the red flag was a significant reason for the loss.

“I just tried to do something a little different there with (Kyle) Larson behind me, but when he hit me I went and I spun the tires,” Truex said. “They just got too cold under that red flag and not enough time to get them warmed up.

“Our car generally took a few laps all day to get warm, but while we had enough caution laps I could kind of keep heat in the tires. Just spun them a bit and he got a run and there was no way he was going to go around me on the bottom with all that stuff down there and I just went into one and spun the tires because they were so cold.”

Prior to the final caution Truex appeared poised to add to his already impressive advantage in playoff points. The Mayetta, New Jersey native has already earned 35 guaranteed playoff points – 17 more than any other driver – and is positioned to gain an additional 15 points as the regular season champion with a 129-point edge on Larson and only three races remaining before the playoffs.

Given his healthy advantage, some though Truex might allow Furniture Row Racing teammate Jones to take over the race lead late. Jones likely needs a win to advance into the playoffs, and MIS is the rookie’s home track.

But Truex was having none of it.

“We don’t have team orders,” Truex said. “Nobody lets each other win. He’s (Jones) going to win some races. His turn will come.”

Instead, Truex and Jones lost out to the driver closest to Truex in both playoff points and the regular season standings – Larson.

“Just one of them things that happens,” Truex said. “Like I said, again, the double-file restarts are tricky, and sometimes you do them right. Sometimes you screw them up, and unfortunately I screwed the one up that mattered the most today.”

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