Things were going according to plan for Martin Truex Jr. through the first two stages of the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Then the third stage nearly turned into a disaster for the reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.
“I’m telling you, God is testing us,” said Truex post-race. “There’s no question.”
Because of an engine change, Truex started the day at the rear of the field. However, he broke into the top 10 before the end of Stage 1 to earn points and then added to his points by finishing third in Stage 2.
Then Truex pitted under green from the seventh position on Lap 248 because of concerns over a loose wheel. He was then subsequently penalized for driving through too many pit stalls, which brought him back down pit road for a drive-through penalty.
When it was over, Truex was two laps down in the 26th position. It would take until a caution with 38 laps to go before Truex was back on the lead lap. He then charged to a ninth-place finish.
“Had to start at the back, got to the front, hung around there for a while and then had a loose wheel there again. Just a tough day,” said Truex. “Overall, a good day. Luckily, we were able to get up front and get some stage points in the first two stages and then we had trouble, but we had it at least in time to recover.
“Proud of everybody on this Bass Pro/5-hour ENERGY Toyota and feel like we’re in decent shape going to Phoenix. We’ll go there and race hard again and see what we can do.”
Truex did not gain or lose points on the cutoff line in the playoff standings. He entered and left Texas with a 25-point advantage. One race remains in the Round of 8 and a successful day at Phoenix’s ISM Raceway next Sunday separates Truex from a shot at defending his 2017 crown.
“(Kevin) Harvick or Kyle (Busch) winning is a perfect scenario — the guys that are ahead of you in points,” said Truex. “That was good. I feel OK about where we are. I think we need a little more speed to run with the Fords — they’re clearly really, really fast right now. If this was last year, they would all be complaining that we’re too fast so I don’t know if I should do a (Brad) Keselowski and start whining about it or not. They’re really fast, and if we’re off just a little bit, we can’t run with them.
“We were off a little bit today. On the short run, they were really fast, but on the long run I thought we were as good as anybody, just never got to show it. Track position was so, so hard to get.”