A self-described “bonehead move” made Michigan a day of perseverance for Martin Truex Jr. and his Joe Gibbs Racing team, the reward at the finish a third consecutive third-place finish.
Truex and rookie Tyler Reddick made contact very early in Saturday’s race. Both wound up with flat tires, a right-front on Truex’s No. 19 Toyota that forced him to make an unscheduled, green-flag pit stop on lap 21.
Trapped a lap down, Truex went on to finish 35th in the first stage and 31st in the second.
“It’s not fun,” said the 2017 series champion about falling so far behind early in the day. “You don’t want ever to be the guy that screws up. Last week we had an issue on a pit stop, had a tire get away, and had to go to the back for that. We win, we lose together. Everybody makes mistakes from time to time, and whether it was last week with a pit stop issue or whether this week with me having contact on the track, you just fight and claw as hard as you can all day long.
“Until the race is over, you’re giving everything you can for your team, your sponsors, everybody involved. That’s no different no matter the situation, what happened, it doesn’t matter. You put it in the past, and you move on.”
A caution on lap 94 for the first of John Hunter Nemechek’s multiple accidents finally led to Truex getting back on the lead lap when he received the free pass. Then a rash of cautions, restarts, and the Choose Rule helped him make his way toward the top of the leaderboard.
Truex restarted eighth on the final restart. Using the PJ1 – applied to the third lane – he rocketed around multiple drivers in Turns 3 and 4 to slot into third coming to the white flag and where he’d be at the checkered.
“It’s frustrating when you make such a small mistake and have to pay such a big consequence,” Truex said of the cut tire. “But I would say that in general … I’ve been in that same situation many times, and I barely, barely, barely touched him — on accident, obviously; and I must have just hit him in the perfect spot because it cut down my tire and then his.
“Very, very slight contact, and it’s frustrating for sure, but you look at all the restarts at the end, guys are banging into each other, and the front and rear bumpers are really strong, so you can use those. Just side-to-side contact could be a big deal if you mess up like I did. Again, that was a mistake that really cost us a lot of stage points — and Reddick as well. So, I hated that for him, that he was a victim of my mistake.
“I was surprised it happened. Really, really surprised. But fortunately, we were able to overcome it.”