By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
“He may have won the battle, but he ain’t winning the damn war,” Martin Truex, Jr. said after the conclusion of Sunday’s First Data 500 at Martinsville.
Minutes earlier, Truex, who had driven from the back of the pack to the lead on the last lap, found himself at the receiving end of Joey Logano’s bumper in Turn 3, dropping him from a chance at a win and a berth in the Championship 4 at Homestead to a third-place finish.
While Logano was celebrating his win and place as one of the drivers that will race for the championship in the season finale, the scowling expression on Truex’s face as he watched the post-race proceedings said it all. Logano will have a target on his back from this moment on.
The anger of the moment spread throughout the crew of the No. 78 team, with crew chief Cole Pearn visibly shaking while speaking with NBC as their car was pushed through post-race technical inspection.
“It’s tough to take,” said Pearn. “Had a great car today and Martin did a good job racing him clean and worked him over and eventually got him. I guess we shouldn’t have cleared him and given him the chance. I’m not surprised coming from him. I mean, that’s kind of how he drives and you know, whatever. That’s his choice to make.
“I’m happy I don’t have a jack handle or a baseball bat right now.”
Entering the weekend with a 23-point advantage over the cut-off line for the Championship 4, Truex qualified sixth for the 500-lap race, but wound up failing inspection on Sunday morning, causing his time to be disallowed and dropping him to the back of the pack for the start of the race.
Despite the poor track position, Truex made the most of the performance of his Furniture Row Racing Toyota, climbing inside the top-10 to finish seventh at the end of Stage 1. The second stage allowed him to move even further up the leaderboard, finding himself in fourth when the green-checkered flag flew at lap 260.
Truex took the lead for the first time at lap 360 and stayed out front through the fifth caution of the day when William Byron brought out the yellow flag for an incident in Turn 4. Three laps after the restart, Truex would lose the lead to Logano.
Having asserted himself as one of the fastest long run cars on track, things started to play right back into Truex’s hands as the laps wound down.
When the final green flag run started with 36 laps to go, Truex was situated in the back half of the top-10 and had his sights set on making it back to the lead to finally get himself a grandfather clock and a short track win.
Picking off driver after driver, Truex slotted into second-place inside of 10 laps to go, eventually pulling alongside Logano, with the two staging a thrilling side-by-side battle for the lead and the win. With the white flag in sight, Truex was eventually able to clear Logano but the race was far from over at that point.
Still holding the lead down the backstretch having cleared Logano, Truex looked to finally have an elusive Martinsville victory in his grasp.
However, Logano had other plans, laying the bumper to Truex in Turn 3, shooting him up the race track and allowing Logano to pull alongside. The two made contact again in Turn 4, which caused Truex’s car to get sideways entering the frontstretch.
Logano pulled back ahead and beat him back to the finish, while Truex got his car gathered back up and finished third after Denny Hamlin was able to sneak by for the runner-up spot.
“I was next to him for six laps,” said Truex. “I never knocked him out of the way. We were going to race hard for it in my book. I cleared him fair and square. We weren’t even banging doors for me to pass him. He just drove into the back of me and knocked me out of the way. That’s short track racing, but what goes around comes around.
“I pretty much had the feeling going to the backstretch that that was going to happen and there was nothing I could do about it. It sucks, but that’s the way it goes. I can promise you I won’t forget what he did.”