By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
A complete afterthought in last week’s Daytona 500, Martin Truex, Jr. showed up to race with a strong, but disgruntling runner-up effort during Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuickTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, leading 4 of 325 laps.
The thought of scoring his first top-five at Joe Gibbs Racing was irrelevant to Truex, who voiced his displeasure about lapped cars, specifically Ricky Stenhouse, Jr, who he felt that by running the preferred bottom line, it cost him from beating Brad Keselowski, who went on to become Team Penske’s most successful driver in history with his 60th team win.
“Yeah, I’m a lot frustrated, you know – lapped cars, said Truex. “They just have no respect for the leaders running for the win. It’s completely uncalled for, ridiculous. It’s a shame.”
Throughout the afternoon, Truex showed good pace, running inside the top-five and scored 12 stage points (finished fifth in both stages), but it wouldn’t be until the final restart and a bit of luck due to other driver’s misfortunes to seriously move up the leaderboard.
Prior to the final restart with 43 laps to go, there was a debate as whether or not Truex should’ve restarted fourth due to a penalty because one of his crew members went over the wall too soon. If warranted, that would’ve put him to restart tail end of the longest line.
However, the ruling from NASCAR was a non-penalty as there was insufficient evidence of the crew member stepping their foot in the pits. Thus he was able to restart in the second row, and with that concern, which Truex didn’t knew until after the race, now out of the way, the race went forward and it was go time for Truex.
This was the case once Joey Logano pitted from second due to a loose wheel, as Truex capitalized on the occasion and became the fastest car on the track.
With 20 laps remaining, Truex got by Kurt Busch for second and with concerns from Keselowski’s camp after both Logano and Ryan Blaney pitted for tire issues, his lap times regressed, giving Truex the opportune moment of catching the leader.
However, just as he was catching Keselowski, Stenhouse became the subject of angry radio chatter from the No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry team, yelling to inform the No. 17 team to get off the bottom as he was a lap down, and not running for track position.
“We lined up on that last restart behind all those guys that are a lap down and I know they were racing for the lucky dog, which is all good, but once they got strung out, the 17 had a straightaway on all of me and he just wouldn’t let me by,” Truex on Stenhouse. “He just kept hugging the bottom, hugging the bottom, hugging the bottom and knew that’s where I needed to run. I kept telling – my spotter kept telling his we need the bottom.”
Once the message was received, Truex continued cutting Keselowski’s lead and was within reach of the leader, but it wasn’t enough to beat him at the line, ending up 0.218 seconds behind the race winner.
Truex described the new rules package being awful in dirty air once the tires began wearing out at Atlanta, and with his run on catching Keselowski, it became apparent.
“These cars punch such a big hole and it’s so bad in dirty air, it completely killed us for 25, 30 laps to the point my front tires were gone once I finally got by him,” said Truex. “Hell, I still ran down the 2 in two laps from half a straightaway. We clearly had the best car and were in position to win. Guys a lap down have to have a little more respect than that.”
Truex said that one lap, just one lap, would’ve made the difference to beat Keselowski and capture his first Atlanta victory.
“Man, I could taste that one. I really wanted that first Atlanta win,” said Truex. “Once I got around (Stenhouse), I got to the 2 in two laps, so just needed one more.
“Unfortunately, we had a great car and like I said, the guys did a great job. Just a little upset. We had the best car. We probably should have won that one.”