Ryan Truex loses playoff shot to tiebreaker

Russell LaBounty/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

JOLIET, Ill. — Ryan Truex and Hattori Racing did everything in their power to race their way into the playoffs in Friday’s TheHouse.com 225 at Chicagoland Speedway – qualifying on the pole, winning Stage 1 and coming within one spot of tying their season-best performance with a fourth-place run.

In the end the team’s effort fell short by the narrowest of margins.

In fact, it was literally the slimmest possible margin: zero points, having lost the final playoff position for the Camping World Truck Series to ThorSport Racing’s Ben Rhodes on a tiebreaker. Given the heartbreaking circumstances, the New Jersey native didn’t hide his disappointment afterward on pit road.

“It sucks,” Truex said. “We’re a top-five team and we’re missing the playoffs, so it’s frustrating.”

Truex, the younger brother of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season champion Martin Truex Jr., entered the regular season finale at Chicagoland trailing Rhodes by seven points for the final playoff position available on points.

The 25-year-old tallied his first-career pole in the series shortly before the race, and was one of a handful of drivers including Christopher Bell and Chase Briscoe that could compete for the race lead in the opening stage.

While his No. 16 Toyota was fast, Truex couldn’t hold the top teams off over the course of the stage. A late caution allowed the former Cup Series regular to stay out and claim a stage win, but he was largely removed from the battle for the race victory from the beginning of Stage 2 through the event’s completion.

“We were off a little bit,” Truex said. “I knew the (No.) 4 (Bell) and the (No.) 29 (Briscoe) were a quicker. Me and the (No.) 21 (Johnny Sauter) were similar, he was better in the long run obviously. I felt like I had to be really, really aggressive on restarts, and I was.

“I was able to get those spots, but deeper in the run they would just pass me back and I couldn’t run with them.”

While he wasn’t able to fight for the win, issues on pit road and the racing surface for Ben Rhodes allowed Truex to draw closer, shrinking the gap between the two drivers to just two points after Stage 2.

Despite the playoff pressure, Truex claimed not to have known about Rhodes’ miscues during the race.

“I wasn’t paying attention,” Truex said. “Every restart I was trying to get the lead, and I was trying to lead laps and make it to the end and battle for the win. We were on spot short. That’s what it comes down to.”

With the laps winding down, the playoff hopes for Truex and Rhodes each depended on their performance over a green-flag run that stretched to 40 laps to close out the race. Early on in the run Truex held the advantage, running inside of the top three while Rhodes filled the back half of the top 10.

But over the course of the run the playoff situations began to shift. Rhodes rose back through the field to sixth, and Truex dropped back to fourth. As the race dipped into its final 25 laps, Rhodes and Truex found themselves in a dead tie on points.

That’s where they stayed until the checkered flag flew, forcing NASCAR to implement a tiebreaker – best finish on the year – to decide which of the two made the playoffs and which didn’t. The spot went to Rhodes, who bested Truex by one position courtesy of a second-place run at Pocono Raceway.

Given his team’s recent performance Truex couldn’t help but feel one of the playoffs’ true contenders was out before the postseason began. Now all that remains for Truex and Hattori Racing is the opportunity to play spoiler and contend for race wins.

“It sucks, because half of the guys in the playoff field are runnig 12th to eighth every week, and we run top five and miss it,” Truex said. “But that’s racing. If we didn’t have any of the issues earlier in the year that we couldn’t control, then we wouldn’t even be talking about this because we would’ve been locked in coming in.

“That’s part of racing. Sometimes you’re on the good side, sometimes you’re on the bad. We’re going to keep working and win before the season’s over.

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