Martin Truex Jr. was doing everything he could advance into the Championship 4 for the fourth consecutive year before a loose wheel ended his bid at Martinsville Speedway.
Truex was forced to pit with 26 laps to go in the Xfinity 500 because of a vibration that kept getting worse. It turned out to be a loose right-front wheel on his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, and he went from running second to finishing 22nd.
“It sucks,” Truex said of being eliminated from the playoffs. “Team did a great job; we were doing what we had to do there, and that run right before the loose wheel the car was just phenomenal. It was the best it had been all day, it was absolutely as perfect as I could ask for it to be, and we were just driving away. Then we pitted, came back out, and fired off there, and it was really, really tight, and started vibrating lap two or three that run and the 9 (Chase Elliott) passed up, drove away, and we were just dropping like a rock because the right-front tire was loose.
“They don’t turn too good when the right-front wheel is not tight. It’s really unfortunate; I felt like we were going to have a hell of a race for the win, and I really felt like we had what it took. But you have to do all those little things right, and we didn’t today.”
Truex led 129 laps in the Xfinity 500 as one of two drivers who led in the triple digits. Chase Elliott led a race-high 236 laps and won the race, which propelled him from below the cutline into the title race. Truex was also in a must-win situation and would have liked to see if he had a car capable of battling it out with Elliott down to the wire.
“Would have been a hell of a race, I can tell you that because we ran with him all day long and he was really fast, but I was never really happy (with the car),” said Truex. “And the one time we were happy, we didn’t get to race with him because he was coming through the field.
“I don’t know, to be honest with you, but I feel in my heart that we had her dialed in, and it was going to be a hell of a race, and we had the lead. It’s where you need to be. I wish we could have found out.”
The 2017 series champion was behind the eight-ball throughout the Round of 8. A lack of the playoff points that Truex and his team are usually accustomed to put him 36 points behind going into Martinsville. His previous two finishes in the round were ninth in Kansas and second in Texas.
But Truex was one of the more consistent drivers this season, and has the third-most top-10 finishes (22). And like Martinsville, there were plenty of other race weekends that slipped away from him and his team.
“Definitely capable of a lot more than we’ve achieved,” said Truex. “That’s for sure.”