Martin Truex Jr. had tires that were five laps fresher than those of teammate Kyle Busch, but it wasn’t enough to overcome a 10-second gap.
Truex finished second to Busch in the race and the championship hunt at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Crew chief Cole Pearn kept his driver on track until lap 214, whereas teammate Denny Hamlin pitted on lap 208 and Kyle Busch on lap 209. When Truex cycled back around with 44 laps to go, he was 10 seconds behind Busch and he cut the gap to 4.5 seconds at the finish.
“I just did whatever Cole said,” Truex said. “He does the strategy; I just drive. Obviously, (the fresher tires at the end) strategy didn’t work out. We were quite a bit quicker at the end, but we were just too far back. No chance.”
For a second straight year, Truex was the championship runner-up.
It wasn’t a comfortable night for Truex and company. While he dominated in the early going, leading for 98 laps in the race’s first 120 and picking up the Stage 1 win, it got very tense after the lap 110 mark.
Truex pitted from the lead under green flag conditions on lap 119. He would soon make a second pit stop, also under green, because the tires had been put on the wrong side of the car. Fortunately, early domination played in Truex’s favor as he only fell one lap down into the 13th position.
“I’ve never had that happen,” said Truex. “I don’t even know what to say. … It doesn’t drive good with the left front on the right front, though, I can tell you that. It’s very tight.”
A caution on lap 138 gave Truex the free pass. But he only led five more laps (for a total of 103), and that came during the final pit cycle when he stayed on track longer than his fellow title contenders.
“Ultimately, it was the loss of track position that bit us,” said Truex. “We restarted the third stage in third, and really wish I could have been either second or fourth. I got blitzed on the outside by the 20 (teammate Erik Jones) and the 22 (Joey Logano) and a couple of those guys, and then I had to just run the crap out of my right front to get back by them. I got tight on that run, and it took me forever to just get by a few cars.
“I lost a bunch of ground on that run because of getting tight in traffic, and then just was too far back to make anything happen the last run. Ultimately it came down to that track position. I felt like if I could have been up front and controlled the race, I could have driven away from them. At the end, we were quite a bit quicker, but it’s just … it was too much of a gap.
“It’s part of the deal. You’ve got be perfect, and one mistake probably cost us a shot at it.”