By Cole Cusumano, Staff Writer
Not much has gone right for Martin Truex Jr. since the start of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, but that’s okay – for now.
Halfway through what’s been a tumultuous postseason for most all championship contenders, the driver of the No. 19 for Joe Gibbs Racing has been lackluster at best. In many ways, Truex’s most recent outing in the YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway can be considered a microcosm of how that team has fared in the Playoffs.
The 2017 champion qualified 16th, posted an average running position of 19th and would ultimately end up 18th in a race where he was just ‘there.’ And yet, this was statistically one of his best performances in the Playoffs to this point.
To put in perspective how rough it’s been, Truex has yet to place higher than 17th or score more than 20-points in a Playoffs event, posting a 21.6 average through five races. In finishing 18th and accumulating 19-points at Talladega, he matched his second-best outing in nearly every aspect, which was in the Round of 16 opener at Darlington Raceway.
Fortunately for Truex, he’s had the luxury of falling back on an immensely successful 26-week campaign to remain afloat.
In locking up the regular-season championship and winning six stages, combined with three victories in the regular season, Truex racked up an additional 36-points going into the Playoffs to begin the 10-race test tied with William Byron as the one-seed with a 29-point buffer above the cutoff.
Truex’s fall from grace was well documented leading up to the Round of 16 finale at Bristol Motor Speedway, where he entered the race seven points below the cutline. However, what many people aren’t talking about, due to his points carry over into the next round, is how far he’s plummeted in the driver standings, which seriously illustrates his struggles.
Leaving Daytona Int’l Speedway, Truex held a 47-point lead over the second-place team. In the five races since, he’s dropped to sixth in the standings and 61 points back from Byron in first.
Cumulative points aside, Truex very much remains in the hunt for his second championship. Courtesy of his bonus points buildup, he’s 17 points to the good entering the Round of 12 elimination race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.
Whereas many are likely dreading the unknowns of the perennially hectic, hybrid track, Truex has to see this as his best opportunity to right the ship before potentially going into a more uniform Round of 8 with two 1.5-mile ovals and a short track.
Not only did Truex’s last top-10 come at Watkins Glen Int’l, he’s finished top-10 in 75% of road course events this season (excluding the Chicago Street Course) with a win at Sonoma Raceway.
As for the ROVAL, he’s placed a career-best of seventh (twice). While his 14.8 average through five starts and 17th scored last year may not be anything to brag about, a finish within that range would either tie for his best playoffs showing in 2023 or supersede it.
At this point, Truex is likely just trying to get back into championship form.
Entering the postseason, he and Byron appeared to be clear favorites to make a run at the Bill France Cup after combining for eight wins and dominating just about every statistical category. Since it began, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson have consistently asserted themselves as the drivers to beat.
With Byron sneaking out a win at Texas Motor Speedway and finishing runner-up at Talladega after what’s been a very up-and-down postseason, the pressure is on Truex to rejoin the party.