By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
FORT WORTH, Texas — Martin Truex Jr. kept his championship hopes alive after overcoming a series of setbacks to finish ninth in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
The day began with Truex playing catch up.
Despite qualifying a solid 13th, the Furniture Row Racing team elected for an engine change in the No. 78 Bass Pro Shops/5-hour Energy Toyota Camry following final practice, which forced them to start the race at the rear of the field.
Even with the initial obstacle, the reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion was able to climb up to fifth at the end of the opening stage, and inched even closer to finish third at the end of the second stage.
However, a vibration for a loose right rear wheel came about on Lap 243, which forced Truex to pit during green flag conditions. In addition, officials penalized Truex for driving through pit stalls during his unscheduled stop. The collection of problems put him down two laps.
The combination of pace and luck with an opportune caution on Lap 296 put Truex back on lead lap with just 14 other cars.
From there, he managed to climb up into field for his 20th top 10 on the year.
“I’m telling you, God is testing us,” Truex said. “There’s no question. Had to start at the back, got to the front, hung around there for a while and then had a loose wheel there again.
“Just a tough day. Overall, a good day.
“Luckily we were able to get up front and get some stage points in the first two stages and then we had trouble, but we had it at least in time to recover. (I’m) proud of everybody on this Bass Pro/5-hour Energy Toyota and feel like we are in decent shape going to Phoenix.
“We’ll go there and race hard again and see what we can do.”
Although championship rival Kevin Harvick took the victory, Truex believes it was the ideal situation as they are trying to advance out of the Round of 8 and currently sit 25 points above the cutoff line, which is held by Kurt Busch.
“Harvick or Kyle (Busch) winning is a perfect scenario – the guys that are ahead of you in points,” Truex said. “That was good. I feel okay about where we are.
“I think we need a little more speed to run with the Fords – they’re clearly really, really fast right now. If this is last year, they would all be complaining that we’re too fast, so I don’t know if I should do a (Brad) Keselowski and start whining about it or not.
“They’re really fast and if we’re off just a little bit we can’t run with them. We were off a little bit today. On the short run, they were really fast, but on the long run I thought we were as good as anybody, but just never got to show it. Track position was so, so hard to get.”
The final race of the Round of 8 takes place next weekend at ISM Raceway in Phoenix.