By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
When Martin Truex Jr. drove from 18th to first in the opening seven laps in Saturday’s Echo Park 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, it was looking like his day.
Followed by two stage wins and 103 laps of leading, Truex’s No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota maintained as the quickest car of the afternoon.
Unfortunately for the Cup champion, he was also fast on pit road, grabbing a speeding penalty on lap 114. The penalty pushed his dominant car to the rear of the field and behind on track position.
Truex could only manage a second-place finish, behind only race winner Justin Allgaier.
“All-in-all, obviously, it was a pretty good hot rod,” Truex said. “I was just trying to figure out how hard I could push and not smoke the tires off… which is what I did at the end of the race.
“We were really strong the first two stages, then I screwed up and sped on pit road. I probably gave away any chance of winning here — just had to use it up too much to get through the field.”
In what was his first Xfinity start since 2010, Truex was happy to get a taste of the second-tier series, despite missing out on what would have been his first win in the series since 2006.
“It’s not a whole lot different than what we used to race in the past,” he said. “The track got slick, it definitely got slicker as the sun went down, it shaded up [Turns] 1,2. We just lost the handle, I really felt like I was abusing my tires. A tough third stage.
“But I did have a lot of fun. Thanks to Stanley for asking me to do this and everyone at JGR and Xfinity for letting me have a crack at it.”
— NASCAR Xfinity (@NASCAR_Xfinity) March 20, 2021