Texas proves to be “long terrible day” for Martin Truex Jr.
FORT WORTH, Texas — William Byron celebrated. Martin Truex Jr. stewed.
The two drivers entered the playoffs and Sunday’s Round of 12 opener atop the standings with the same number of points, but that’s the only similarity in their playoffs.
Byron’s victory at Texas Motor Speedway marked his third top-10 finish in the first four playoff races.
Meanwhile, Truex endured another awful day, finishing 17th — his best result in the playoffs.
Truex was hit from behind and spun. He struggled with the car’s handling and never recovered track position lost.
“So far, nothing has went right at all,” Truex told NBC Sports about the playoffs. “Today, we just didn’t really run good. I thought we were a top-10 car early, and then once we got spun out there and had to drive around with flat tires, I think it messed something up underneath (the car). Definitely was way tighter after that and we lost our track position.
“It just piles on when you get back there. Then on top of that, our pit stops are absolutely horrendous. Nothing really good today at all to speak of other than not getting wrecked.
“Long terrible day. We need to fix it.”
The last three four-tire pit stops for Truex ranged between 11.2 and 12.7 seconds, according to Racing Insights, which times the stop from the moment the car enters the pit stall to when it leaves.
To compare, all five of teammate Denny Hamlin’s four-tire pit stops were completed between 9.9 and 10.8 seconds. Teammate Christopher Bell’s crew had three of its four four-tire pits stops between 10.0 and 10.2 seconds.
Sunday continued what has been a dreary playoffs for Truex, who nearly became the first regular-season champion to be eliminated in the first round last weekend.
“We’ve got to find a way to get it going,” Truex told NBC Sports. “We got to do it quick. Talladega is a crapshoot wildcard … the Roval, it’s a tough place, too, so these next two are going to be really tough.
“We really wanted to come out of here in a good position, and we just didn’t take advantage.”
Truex’s playoffs have been bad from the beginning.
He hit the wall in practice at Darlington and it affected the car in qualifying. He started 31st. Truex later took blame for not pushing his team to make changes, which would have meant he would have started at the back. That wouldn’t have been much of a penalty based on where he qualified. Instead, he fought the car’s handling in the race and finished 18th.
At Kansas, his tire went down after a puncture and Truex hit the wall on the fourth lap, finishing last.
At Bristol, he spun and finished two laps down in 19th.
Then came Sunday’s struggles. Erik Jones got into the back of Brad Keselowski, who got into the back of Truex, spinning Truex after the end of the opening stage. Truex was never a factor after that.
With 36 playoff points entering this round, it gave Truex some cushion. He fell to fifth in the standings, 19 points ahead of Bubba Wallace, the first driver outside a transfer spot to the Round of 8.
Next is Talladega. Truex has never won a superspeedway race in his Cup career.
The playoffs may only get more difficult for the former champion.