The presumed biggest hurdle in Martin Truex Jr.’s way when it comes to getting to the championship race was cleared triumphantly Sunday.
Truex finished second at Martinsville Speedway, a track that has not been his strong suit in recent memory. Entering the weekend with an average finish of 20.4 at the half-mile, Truex exorcised his demons by running inside the top 10 all afternoon and coming within 0.141 seconds of pulling off a victory.
“It was definitely just a solid weekend all in all, really proud of the team,” Truex said. “We’ve really worked hard to come here to Martinsville to try to be better than we’ve been. It’s been a track that throughout my career has been a tough one for me, and I feel like over the last couple years we’ve gotten better and better and started to kind of unlock the secrets and figure out how to be better in the race here.”
Saying Sunday was a step in the right direction, Truex described his car as a fourth- to sixth-place machine. That’s an improvement from the spring, when Truex finished 16th, and he said figuring out Martinsville this time around was perfect timing.
“A solid run to get fifth in both stages and then finish second” he said. “Happy with the day, and look forward to two more strong ones and then go to Homestead and get after this championship.”
Restarting fourth after the race’s final caution, Truex followed Kyle Busch to the front after the No. 18 moved Denny Hamlin out of the way. Getting to the inside of Busch going into Turn 3 on the last lap, Truex hung onto his sliding car as the two drag raced to the finish line.
“There’s a lot of things I could have done differently, but ultimately what I did, came home second. I thought ‑‑ like I said, I had a tough battle with Clint [Bowyer] side by side coming to the white [flag] and was lucky enough to clear him and then ultimately have a shot at the lead because of the 18 [Busch] and the 11 [Hamlin] getting together,” Truex said.
“Had I not cleared Clint, I wouldn’t have even had a chance. So, I don’t know that I would have done anything differently. I thought the hole opened up, I drove inside of Kyle, and I wasn’t going to go run into him; that’s just not the way I do it. I think we can get to Homestead without making too many enemies. We’ll let everybody else fight and we’ll try to do our own thing.”
With a runner-up finish Sunday, Truex now has six top-five finishes in seven playoff races and his average finish is an impressive 5.2. Next week at Texas Motor Speedway, the No. 78 team will look for its seventh win of the season on a 1.5-mile track.