By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
DARLINGTON, S.C. – A loose wheel and a pit road speeding penalty couldn’t stop Martin Truex Jr. from scoring a top-five finish in the Cook Out Southern 500.
In Stage 2 at Darlington Raceway, Truex pitted with a loose wheel. An untimely debris caution trapped the No. 19 Bass Pro Toyota Camry a lap down for the remainder of the Stage. It wasn’t until the caution for the end of Stage 2 that Truex received the free pass.
The Mayetta, N.J. native worked his way forward throughout the 137-lap final Stage. By lap 300, Truex was back inside the top-10 and was still climbing up the running order. Under caution on lap 320, he pitted with the rest of the field. Although Truex won the race off pit road, he was penalized for speeding. That dropped the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion to the tail of the field.
Another quick caution allowed Truex to catch up but left him with under 40 laps to go. The 41-year-old charged forward, setting his fastest lap on the restart. However, there was not enough time. Truex ultimately crossed the line in fourth while his Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) teammate, Denny Hamlin, took the victory.
“I feel like we left something on the table for sure,” admitted Truex. “It was a little bit of a let down there. Really fast Bass Pro Toyota. Proud of everybody back at JGR, they put in a lot of work to come out swinging with the playoff stuff. Seeing the 11 win is a big deal.
“Without that speeding penalty, I would have liked to see what we could have done. We came from a long way back that last run and passed a lot of cars to get to fourth. They weren’t that far ahead of us, so you never know. We had some fresher tires, really fast on the long runs, just had a lot to overcome.
“That’s a big of the true grit, determination of this team. We’ve been through a lot this summer. We always fight through it as good as we can, and we never give up. That’s our deal.”
Truex started 10th due to NASCAR’s metric qualifying formula. A chaotic Stage 1 allowed the Cup Series veteran the move forward on the repeated restarts. When the Stage ended, Truex was sixth, netting an additional five points.
The fourth-place finish is the ninth top-five for Truex this season and the 125th of his Cup Series career.
The JGR driver remained third in points after entering Darlington tied with Ryan Blaney for second. Truex is 44-points behind leader Kyle Larson. He is 36-points above the playoff cutoff, held by Alex Bowman.
Next for the NASCAR Cup Series is the Salute to American Heroes 400 at Richmond Raceway on Saturday, September 11.
Featured Photo Credit: Photo by Zach Catanzareti / Kickin’ the Tires