Ricky Stenhouse Jr. says he didn’t feel like he held up Martin Truex Jr. last weekend at Atlanta.
“If he was that fast, then he could have closed up to us,” Stenhouse countered Wednesday night on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio when asked about Truex’s post-race complaints about lapped traffic. “If the leaders get within five car lengths of me, I let them go.”
Truex, the 2017 Cup Series champion, was fuming after the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 that lapped cars had been disrespectful to the leaders. Trying to chase down Brad Keselowski for the win, Truex felt he ran out of time after abusing his tires trying to get around Stenhouse.
“(They were) in the damn way,” Truex said. “Taking all the lines we want. If they were in that position, they’d be really pissed off — so I am too.”
Stenhouse had lined up among the leaders because an untimely caution fell in the middle of green flag pit stops. Leader Joey Logano and second-place Kurt Busch restarted on the front row as they were the only cars on the lead lap that had not pitted. Behind them were the cars one or more laps down, which were Stenhouse, Jimmie Johnson and others. Then came Keselowski, who received the free pass, and Truex.
Keselowski was able to clear the traffic and take the lead from Logano on Lap 293. Truex finished second.
Stenhouse argued that his spotter, Mike Herman Jr., was keeping him updated on where Truex was as Stenhouse tried to race Keselowski to get back on the lead lap. At one point, the Roush Fenway Racing driver said he thought he was going to catch Keselowski.
“But also [Keselowski] was catching [Chase Elliott] and was going to put him a lap down, and we wanted to make sure that if he got lapped that we could get by him as quick as possible in case the caution came out and we could get the lucky dog that way as well,” said Stenhouse. “The way I see it, if Truex is fast enough and that much faster than me, then he could have caught us. If he would have caught us and got to within five car lengths, I would have let him go. He didn’t have any problem getting within five car lengths of [Keselowski].
“He talks about dirty air and things like that. I don’t know if he thinks that lapped cars have dirtier air coming off the car. Kind of confused me. Keselowski, he restarted behind me, actually nose to tail with Truex, and he passed us on the outside. Generally, when I have a faster car, I just drive around the lapped cars that I’m lapping. I felt like me, my spotter and our team did the right thing for what we had going on.
“Once I slipped up a little bit, Truex closed within five car lengths, and I pulled almost on the apron on the back straightaway to give him whatever lane he wanted and slowed up for him. That’s the way I play it. When the leaders get to me, I give them a lane one way or the other when they get close, but he wasn’t close enough to just give up our whole lap or the positions I was racing for either.”