The Toyota drivers all struggled at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The issue was largely self-inflicted after they were caught trying to alter the nose of the car with bondo. Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and Christopher Bell were sent to the back to start the race and never fully recovered.
Martin Truex Jr. was the sole ray of light for the organization. He held onto his starting position and raced among the leaders for much of the afternoon until a mistake in the pits put him back in heavy traffic. Truex slapped the wall hard in the final segment and a few laps later he cut a tire and wrecked – damaging his car badly enough to finish only 20th.
On the heels of another accident in Daytona, Truex languishes in the points. He climbed to 16th last week, but just barely. Drivers have selective memories, however, and Truex has plenty of strong runs to give him momentum. With the exception of an accident at Talladega Superspeedway in that wild card race last fall, he swept the top 10 during the playoffs and won three times.
The hardship suffered by Truex actually makes him a better value this week. He will be highly focused on starting his climb up the standings. He knows nothing can be taken for granted and as unlikely as it seems, some of the dark horses above him in the rankings could continue to exceed expectations.
Winning solves everything. Truex won the 2018 Auto Club 400.
That was his fourth consecutive top-10 on 2-mile tracks at the time. It is also one of a current three-race, top-10 streak on this track. Truex finished fourth in 2017, won in 2018 and was eighth last year. He was also eighth in 2015.
Michigan International Speedway is a close comparative to Auto Club. Last year Truex was one of three drivers who swept the top 10 on the 2-mile tracks along with perennial favorites Kevin Harvick and Busch. Those two drivers earned average finishes of 4.0. Truex was on their heels with a 5.0.
And that is typical of Truex. In the past six seasons, he has a top-10 average of 55.6% and a top-15 average of 66.7% on this course type. Unless something remarkably bad happens, he will not stumble in the Auto Club 400 and should easily contend for a top-five this week.
Truex’s recent struggles could play into your favor if it causes the competition to devalue him in the slightest. The 2-mile tracks behave like the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks and one should never count the No. 19 team out on that course type.
Career Average Finish: 17.6 in 19 starts (ranked 18th)
2019 Auto Club 400: 8
2018 Auto Club 400: 1
2019 Consumers Energy 400 (Michigan 1): 3
2019 Firekeepers Casino 400 (Michigan 2): 4