LOUDON, NH – Martin Truex Jr. was on track to win Sunday’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but when the checkered flag was hoisted, he found himself snakebite from tactics and a messy restart that saw him clinch the final playoff spot with six Done race left in the regular season.
“It’s just Loudon,” Truex said after a less than satisfactory fourth-place finish on the day, where he started on pole, leading the most laps and winning both stages. “That’s how it’s been my whole career. It doesn’t matter how good we are (at this track). We can’t win.”
Sunday’s scene looked a bit different. until it was not.
The result was Truex leaving the track without a win for the 29th time in his cup career.
And it tastes good.
Teammate Christopher Bell’s win made him the 14th individual cup winner this season, and two playoff spots on points. Truex finds itself in the precarious spot that if there’s a 15th different winner — and it’s not him or Ryan Blaney — Truex will drop out of the playoff position.
With two road courses and one race at Daytona among the survivors of the regular season, the idea is growing that winning will be the only way to make the playoffs this year.
“We race every week, the best we can, try to win the race,” said Truex, who hasn’t won in his 28 starts.
Sunday’s crucial moment for Truex came when the warning flag was waved on lap 206 of the 301-lap race following the Todd Gilliland incident. Trux led. Caution put the teams in the window so that they could make it the rest of the race on fuel after standing.
Truex entered Pitt Road first and exited first, but was not ahead.
Three cars remained outside. Trux was next after a two-tire change.
“We thought we did the right thing to get the track position,” Trux’s crew chief James Small told NBC Sports.
Truex was followed off the pit road by Kyle Larson (no tyres), Kevin Harvick (two tyres), William Byrne (two tyres) and Ross Chastain (two tyres). Chase Elliot was next and the first car to have four tires.
Truex resumed inside the second row behind Joey Logano, who had not pitched.
“(Logano) had a bad jump ahead of us,” Truex said. “I tried to push him to let us go. (Harwick) made us three-wide, and I was poorly placed and lost a few spots.
TrueX soon dropped back to 11th place. The rest of the race without any caution, his hopes of winning were dashed.
“There was nothing to go on with just two tyres,” Truex said. “The car absolutely hated it. There was nothing like it that would last all day. Couldn’t go anywhere and just ride it and get what we could get out of it.”
Smalls said: “Ultimately, maybe we should have got four tires and we would have got a better restart. We would have been further behind, who knows?”
Small said he thought that many teams would only take two tires because the left side tire didn’t wear out much during the race.
“It just didn’t pan out,” he said. “Even at the end of the race, our pace was still fine, it’s that we gave up way too much at the start of the race. Yes, the car is going to drive poorly in traffic. We were lucky that the whole Stay ahead of the day and be able to cross your path.”
till the end.
Smalls left to say: “Good points day, but, really, we need to win. So it doesn’t really matter.”
Much to the disappointment for Truex and his team, this is not the first time the team has missed a chance to win a race.
Last month in Nashville, Truex was in position to start again on the front row for the final caution, but he accidentally followed two teammates down a pit road, got stuck in traffic and finished 22nd.
Till that time it was his best chance to win this season. He later admitted that he beat himself up for a few days because of his mistake.
Truex will have to change his mindset again after Sunday’s result in New Hampshire.
“It’s just disappointing,” Truex said, “for us to give it up like this.”
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Long: New Hampshire beat Martin Truex Jr. again. Originally appeared on NBCSports.com