Just short at Texas, Martin Truex Jr. facing playoff uncertainty at Martinsville

Zack Albert
·3 min read

Martin Truex Jr. came a Texas-sized fuel-mileage gamble away from icing his NASCAR Cup Series postseason fate Wednesday evening.

Truex came up short when teammate Kyle Busch’s gas tank didn’t, finishing second in the rain-plagued Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Instead of taking a breather for the short turn to Sunday’s Round of 8 finale in the playoffs, Truex and his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team will need to rely on his recent Martinsville Speedway mastery in the Xfinity 500 (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET on NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

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Truex made his final pit stop seven laps later than his teammate but was unable to make up substantial ground on the fuel-conscious Busch during the final run to the end.

“We knew he was close,” said Truex, who led five times for 53 laps. “The only thing we could do at that point, which we did all day anyway, was try to run flat-out. Hell of an effort by the Bass Pro guys and everybody that helps us. It just seems like one of those years where we’re second, third, fourth — we’re right there a lot. Just need a little bit more to be better.”

Truex enters the next-to-last race of the season facing a 36-point deficit below the provisional cutline, ranking seventh among the remaining eight playoff-eligible drivers. Three spots in the Championship 4 field remain up for grabs, with only Joey Logano having locked up an automatic berth with his Kansas Speedway win in the round opener.

Truex completed a solid points day with matching second-place finishes in both stages at Texas, but those gains were offset by a substantial 20-point penalty to the No. 19 team for an unapproved spoiler discovered in Sunday’s pre-race inspection. Truex started at the rear of the field and raced with car chief Blake Harris serving as the interim crew chief in place of the ejected James Small.

The points gap means the most likely route to his fourth straight Championship 4 appearance would be by virtue of a victory at Martinsville, which has been friendly to him in recent years. Truex has won the last two races at the .526-mile Virginia track, part of a streak of six straight top-10 efforts there.

It’s a track record that has him confident, but cautiously so.

“Yes and no. I mean, a must‑win at any track, no matter how good you’ve been there in the past, I think is a challenge,” Truex said. “The last race there that we ran and to lead all the laps that we did, whatever, it’s no guarantee. We’ve got to work hard this week to make sure we’re prepared. I know the guys have already been doing that. So definitely optimistic. It’s a good track for us, but it’s a short track and a lot can happen on restarts and things. We’ll go there and do the best job we can.”