Even though Martin Truex Jr. came up one spot short at Kentucky Speedway, he feels his Joe Gibbs Racing team is “back in the game now.”
Truex had to start the Quaker State 400 at the rear of the field after his car failed pre-race inspection twice. But he quickly made his way forward, scored 20th at the lap 25 competition caution. Truex was inside the top 10 by lap 38, and once there, never left.
In contention for the win, Truex, along with Kevin Harvick and Ryan Blaney, was snookered on the final restart by rookie Cole Custer. Truex finished second after leading 57 laps, which was the second-most by a driver on Sunday.
“The final restart, got a good launch there and the 4 [Harvick] car just about had us cleared off Turn 2,” said Truex. “I tried to jump up behind him, and I miss-timed it a little bit, got into his left rear and turned him down the track sideways and was able to get to his right side going into (Turn) 3 and just tried to keep the momentum up.
“But he run me up pretty high, and I think the 12 [Blaney] was three-wide by that point. I was in the marbles just trying to get going and was able to clear those two, but then obviously the 41 [Custer] came with a big head of steam, and there was no way I was going to be able to block that.
“Pretty wild restarts at the end. Unfortunate for us to lose the lead there twice with the caution coming at the wrong time, but that’s just part of the deal how these things. Obviously proud of the run today. Our Auto Owners Camry was really fast and feels good to feel like we’re getting our arms back around some things. So, proud of the effort, and I know some wins are coming.
Truex led the way with 30 laps to go when a caution closed the field back up. With the outside lane being the preferred spot, Truex put Blaney to the inside with 19 laps to go, and the two were battling for the spot when the caution quickly came back out. Truex was determined to be second behind Blaney by 0.006 of a second.
On the next restart with 13 laps to go, Truex was on the inside of Blaney when Harvick made it three-wide going into Turn 1. Harvick retook the lead with Truex finding himself second. With seven laps to go, Truex was challenging underneath Harvick when the caution came out, and he was again deemed to be second (this time by 0.004 of a second) for the restart.
Truex and Harvick were battling down the backstretch when Custer entered the picture with momentum. It was a four-wide battle at the white flag, but Custer cleared Truex by Turn 1, and Truex never got to his bumper to fight for the victory.
“(Custer) was able to keep his momentum up, and we were all tangling, battling, side by side, three-wide and all that mess,” said Truex. “These things are all about momentum, so obviously he was able to keep his momentum going and we all kind of came together there going into Turn 3, he was able to take advantage of it.
“The outside is most of the time where you want to be, but you get a green-white-checkered, and a lot of crazy things can happen, and guys are pushing and shoving. So, yeah, he was just right place, right time, I guess. I haven’t seen (a replay) yet.”
Kentucky was Truex’s first top-five finish since his win at Martinsville last month. It was also the fourth race of the last five in which he’s led laps.