Martin Truex Jr. kept on battling, but the problems kept on coming. And to be perfectly clear, the problems were never with his backup No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota.
The final blow to Truex came with fewer than 60 laps remaining in Sunday’s Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway. As he was positioning himself for the “Lucky Dog” free pass, he was involved in an accident with Ryan Newman. The incident ended Truex’s day prematurely and he left the desert with a 40th-place finish.
“We had a fast race car but too many things to overcome this weekend,” said Truex. “It seemed like every time we fought back from adversity something else would step up and halt our progress. There was actually a time today that I felt we had a shot at winning.”
To regress, Truex started the weekend posting the fifth fastest speed in Friday’s first practice. Near the end of that session, he made contact with the wall, forcing the team to unload the backup Toyota.
Later on Friday, the Furniture Row backup car did not clear technical inspection in time for qualifying and the result was a 40th-place starting position.
Truex did come back with a vengeance in Saturday’s first practice, posting the fastest speed of the session. And that speed continued in Sunday’s race that saw the Furniture Row Racing driver move from 40th to the top-10 by lap 63.
“At that point I thought we could win this race, our Toyota was flying,” noted Truex.
But then it all started to unravel for Truex and the Denver-based single-car team.
As Truex was approaching his pit stall for a green-flag stop on Lap 81, a caution came out. Instead of pitting for tires and fuel, he charged past his stall in hopes of beating the lead car to the line and not falling a lap down. He came close, but it didn’t work.
So when it was time to return to pit road for tires and fuel, NASCAR assessed a penalty on Truex for passing the pace car when he was entering pit road. Truex was surprised by the call and observers did note that if he did slow, he would have most likely caused a multicar wreck. The same penalty was assessed later in the race on Jimmie Johnson, who also questioned the call.
Though the confusing penalty put Truex two laps down, he kept on battling. He got one lap back and would have probably finished the race on the lead lap with a decent result had it not been for the race-ending accident on Lap 256.
“Not our weekend, not our day, but no one can say that we never lost our fight,” said Truex. “One more (race) to go, and Homestead-Miami Speedway has been one of my best tracks.”
The Can-Am 500 winner was Joey Logano. Rounding out the top-10 in order were: Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Alex Bowman, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Paul Menard.
The four drivers qualifying for the final round of the Chase were Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch.
The race had eight lead changes among five drivers and there were nine cautions for 53 laps.
The final race of the 2016 season is Sunday Nov. 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.