Martin Truex Jr. has a stop to make on the way home from a fourth place finish in the elimination race at Martinsville Speedway.
“I’m going to buy a lottery ticket,” Truex joked.
Truex has good reason to, after surviving what turned into a chaotic final 60 laps to earn a spot in the Championship 4. There was his Toyota Camry overheating, a brief stint in the lead, a significant left-front fender rub, bouncing off the backstretch wall, and an overtime restart.
“I have no idea how we finished fourth,” said Truex.
But his fourth-place finish was enough to advance by three points. Truex beat out his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch for the final spot.
“It’s never an easy situation to be on your last run of the race, be in one minute and out the next,” Truex said. “There’s not a whole lot you can do other than drive. Fortunately, we were able to gather ourselves up there and make a pass. We actually got in a good spot before the last two cautions came. I think we were in by one point or something at that point. Luckily, just able to have two good restarts.”
Truex was eighth with 10 laps to go. Truex chose to restart in the outside lane when a caution with seven laps to go set up overtime and moved to fourth.
“Those situations, that’s all you can do,” he continued. “Thinking about it, worrying about it doesn’t do you any good. You just got to try to go, hit your marks, get the most out of your race car. Luckily, we were able to do that.
“The last two restarts were critical, but the last one for sure. The 18 [Kyle Busch] was second. If he would have got the 48 [Alex Bowman], knocked him out of the way like he did the 11 [Denny Hamlin], Kyle’s in or out. I needed to try to stay close to the front there. Luckily, we were able to start there on the second row and hang on to that spot, which was critical.”
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The fender rub occurred with about 50 laps to go after contact with Brad Keselowski, and Truex could see the tire smoke. But after a few laps, the smoke dissipated, and Truex felt his bed was already made by needing to stay on track for track position.
“You have to stay out there and pray and hope that it doesn’t go flat,” he said. “From there, we were just fighting, battling.”
Truex was also careful not to swerve under caution to warn his tires. The team feared the damaged fender would further rub the tire after having clearance itself out a bit.
“They told me don’t swerve the tires under caution (and) you’re going to be all right,” said Truex. “That’s what I did. It worked.”
Bouncing off the backstretch wall came with 29 laps to go. Racing hard and in close quarters off Turn 2, there was possible contact with Kurt Busch that sent Truex to the right and into the wall.
“Everybody took the bottom, and I saw the hole up there, and I was like, I have to go for it, and that worked out for us,” Truex said of where he restarted for overtime.
Phoenix will be Truex’s fifth appearance in the title race.