TALLADEGA, Ala. — Martin Truex Jr.’s extremely interesting season took another compelling turn Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, but as has too often been the case, uneventful and steady would have been preferred.
In a season of high achievement muted by missed opportunity and misfortune, the latest twist eliminated the Furniture Row Racing driver from championship contention. This time it was an engine failure in the No. 78 Toyota on Lap 41 of a scheduled 188 that sent Truex out of the race and out of the Chase.
“It hurts to go out like that,” said Truex, who entered 13 points ahead of the elimination line but left 10th in points after finishing last. “We could have raced all day, gotten in a big wreck and still not made it … but it sure would have been nice to at least find out, at least play the whole game, so to speak, and see what happened. To barely make it to the first pit stop stinks.”
Truex won two of three races in the first segment of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, at Chicagoland Speedway and Dover International Speedway, but he sputtered in the second round before the vibration he felt at Talladega revealed itself as a terminal impending failure instead of a tire malady. Sunday was simply the cap.
Truex had ruled in winning at Charlotte this spring — leading 392 of 400 laps from the pole — but was involved in an accident and eventually relegated to a 13th-place finish because of a late clutch problem in the Chase second-round opener. He had led 172 of 267 laps from the pole but failed to win at Kansas this spring because of a lug nut problem on a pit stop. In the return last week, he was plagued by a race-long fueler problem and finished 11th.
Points left on the table, trophies left to Jimmie Johnson at Charlotte and Kevin Harvick at Kansas, along with the requisite free passes into third round. A win can’t be assumed, but resurfacing endemic problems were insurmountable for a team that finished fourth in points last season winning just once.
While Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn had finally broken through for the wins — a career-high four this season — that strategy calls or odd circumstance had denied them before, they regressed when it mattered most in terms of mitigating the types of mistakes this elimination-style playoff does not excuse.
“We felt like we could do it. But this sport is tough,” Truex said. “We didn't perform at Kansas and Charlotte the way we were capable. We had some issues that put us in a hole. If we could have went there and done better or gotten a win, we wouldn't be talking about this right now.”