By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
Handling issues kept Martin Truex, Jr. in the back of the pack for much of the 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. The defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion lost much of his cushion over the cutoff for the Round of Eight.
With his No. 78 Bass Pro Shops / 5-hour Energy Toyota Camry ‘bouncing’ in the rear of the field, there was not much Truex could do. With the juggernaut of Stewart-Haas Racing dominating the entire race, and a disorganized pack, the points swung widely.
In overtime, Truex started two-points below the cutoff. A multi-car accident in the mad scramble allowed Truex to move up to 23rd, 18-Points above the cutoff.
Truex drifted towards the back of the pack early in the first stage. Over the course of multiple pit stops, his Furniture Row Racing team, led by crew chief Cole Pearn, were unable to diagnose the issue plaguing the Mayetta, NJ native. Truex could maintain a grip on his ill-handling car for a handful of laps after each restart, ultimately giving him a chance in overtime late in the race.
“It didn’t really matter what we did to the car, it didn’t go away,” Truex explained. “We tried a lot of stuff. It was tough to drive. It couldn’t even go straight. I could run hard for two or three laps. As soon as the tires got some air pressure, I was just hanging on. The longer the runs were, the worse it got. There was no chance of me just getting up there and racing. I wanted to.
“Luckily, we were able to get some tires there in the end. I could go for about three laps. I felt good going to the green-white checkered. They wrecked in front of us and we barely made it through. As soon as we got through there, I was able to salvage something.”
Truex slips from third to seventh in the Championship Points Standings, 45-Points behind Points Leader Kevin Harvick. His Playoff Point advantage from the start of the round has been reduced to just 18 over Brad Keselowski, the first driver on the outside looking in.
Truex now has to either maintain or increase his gap over those currently outside the cutoff to move on to the Round of Eight and defend his championship.