By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
A late-race mistake on pit road ended Martin Truex Jr.’s hopes for a second NASCAR Cup Series championship.
The 2017 champion entered pit road at Martinsville Speedway with just over 50 laps to go in the lead. Truex, like his NASCAR Playoff rivals, took four tires. However, the front tire changer did not get all of the lug nuts tight on the right front. The problem became more evident under green.
Truex took the lead back in his No. 19 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota Camry from Corey LaJoie, who stayed on track. The loose wheel, and its’ subsequent vibration, was enough to drop the Mayetta, N.J. native behind eventual race winner Chase Elliott.
Untimely Pit Stop
As the car got tighter, he dropped further down the running order. The loose wheel ultimately forced Truex back to pit road, and to the attention of his James Small-led crew, with 26 laps to go. Although only the right front wheel was loose, Small opted for the crew to change all four tires on Truex’s Toyota Camry.
As the final 51-lap run went caution-free, Truex was trapped two laps down after pitting under green. While his NASCAR Playoff rivals raced hard up front in their attempts to make the Championship 4, the 40-year-old was forced to settle in. In a must-win situation, Truex finished the Xfinity 500 in 22nd.
“We had a great car all day long and just kept making adjustments waiting for it to cool off and get dark,” explained Truex. “That last run there before the final pit stop, the thing was on rails and it was perfect, and we were driving away. I felt really good about it.
“Then we pitted and had a pretty good pit stop. Came out with the lead and right away I knew something was wrong. I was really, really tight and had a vibration. The 9 (Chase Elliott) car passed us and we started dropping and had to pit for a loose wheel. Unfortunate. I think we should be the one in victory lane right now, but you have to do it all. Just a little mistake there.”
Prior to the loose wheel, Truex had been battling with Elliott, Ryan Blaney, and Joey Logano for the lead. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver at one point had taken the lead and was driving away from Elliott, who was also in a must-win situation. In total, Truex led 129 laps at ‘The Paperclip.’
After reseeding, Truex now sits seventh in the championship points standings. He is 66-points, over a full-race, behind Kevin Harvick, who is now fifth in the standings. Truex is 32-points behind Alex Bowman, sixth in points.
2020 marks the first season since 2016 that Truex has failed to make the Championship 4. In 2016, he was eliminated at the conclusion of the Round of 12.
Now Truex has the opportunity to make history as the first non-Championship 4 driver to win the season-finale at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, November 8.
Photo by NKP / NKP Photo