Martin Truex Jr. understood Talladega would be a crapshoot, so he tried not to get too stressed through the weekend. But late in the going Sunday afternoon, it was crew chief Cole Pearn who started to worry.
“Once [Cole] realized, he was like, oh man, this isn’t getting better,” Truex said of the No. 78 team’s position in the playoffs. “We thought there would be some big pileups earlier and there wasn’t, so we were kind of looking pretty stupid there at the end of the race having rode around all day.
“But with that being said, I couldn’t race any harder than I did or I would have caused a crash.”
Truex finished 23rd and was not a factor in the finish or much of the competition. Early on, Truex realized something was wrong with his Toyota Camry and told his team it felt like something in the drivetrain, saying there was a banging and it was causing him to get out of shape.
Running around the back of the pack — more because of what his car was doing than to stay out of trouble — Truex was in danger of losing ground in the playoffs. But Truex said he couldn’t even race with the pack or truly compete because his car was “so screwed up.”
“That’s all I had,” Truex said. “It was as good as my car would run today. Wheel barrel was falling apart on me, I think; felt like it anyways. There was times where I thought on those long runs the rear end housing was about to fall out of it. I don’t know what was going on. I really thought it was breaking. I thought I was not going to finish the race.”
Truex felt like he caught a break at the end of the race with cautions, allowing him to come down pit road and get tires. On fresh tires, Truex had enough grip to run hard before he had to start hanging onto the car again. Even with a mid-pack finish, Truex called it a positive that the day went from really bad to not that terrible.
“We went from being three points out to being 18 to go the good,” said Truex.
Truex is a former winner at NASCAR’s next stop, Kansas, which will trim the playoff field from 12 to eight. Now eighth on the playoff grid, he does have an 18-point advantage on the cutline, which is Brad Keselowski.
“I feel good,” Truex said. “Not a great spot. I think that’s one of the places we feel best about; it’s been really good for us. It’s racing. It’s the Cup Series; a lot can happen.
“We’ll have to come in there and make sure we have a solid day. No mistakes and don’t beat ourselves, and I feel like we’ll have a shot at winning there. It’ll be fun, and look forward to it.”