By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex, Jr.’s bid for a second NASCAR Cup Series championship was revived with his first top-10 finish in the 2023 NASCAR Playoffs in Sunday’s South Point 400.
The 2023 Regular Season champion was forced to rely on the 15 Playoff Points that came with winning that title to advance through the Round of 16 and Round of 12. That reliance came because Truex’s No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry team failed to score a top-15 finish in the first six races of the playoffs.
All that changed at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Multiple long green flag runs allowed the Mayetta, N.J. native to climb through the field. The late-race green flag runs helped Truex move back into the top-10 after an ill-fated call to stay out at the start of Stage 2 dropped in down the running order.
In the closing laps the 2017 champion slipped by Bubba Wallace and Joey Logano. Truex moved back into the top-10 with under 20 laps to go. He passed his teammate, Denny Hamlin, for ninth before the checkered flag waved. He moved up to eighth after Ryan Blaney was disqualified for failing post-race technical inspection.
“It was just trying to figure out how to minimize the damage and hope that we could get a longer run,” Truex explained. “We did at the end, which was really helpful. I don’t know what we had going on. Restarting up front, we were pretty good, and then on the long runs, really good – I thought – probably a third-place car, but once we got back there – 16th, 18th whatever it was – it was just really bad on the restart.
“I would lose three, four, five spots every time and then once we got strung out and got going, I would pick them off and work our way forward, but then we would get another caution and I would lose a couple more. It was an uphill battle, but luckily at the end, we were able to have a couple of better restarts and at least maintain, and then work our way forward from there. All-in-all, it was okay. The pit call obviously killed us in Stage 2.”
Truex finished the first Stage of the 400-mile race in fifth. Then crew chief James Small opted to have the 43-year-old stay out, expecting others to follow suit. Ultimately, they were the only team that didn’t during the stage break, causing Truex to plummet outside of the top-15 before the next caution flag waved.
The eighth-place finish was Truex’s first since Watkins Glen Int’l, eight races ago. It was also his 16th top-10 finish this season and the 279th of his Cup Series career.
By virtue of the six stage points and the top-10 finish, Truex is fourth on the playoff grid, holding the final spot. He is just three points ahead of the other Joe Gibbs Racing driver that is in the playoffs, Christopher Bell.
Next for Truex and his team is the 4EVER 400 presented by Mobil 1 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 18 starts at the 1.5-mile track he has one victory, seven top-five and 12 top-10 finishes. He finished sixth and led 28 laps despite a spin on pit road under caution after contact in the only race with the NASCAR Next Gen car at Homestead last season.
The 4EVER 400 presented by Mobil 1 at Homestead-Miami Speedway is scheduled for Sunday, October 22 at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC. The race will also be broadcast on the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.