Strong run in Atlanta keeps Truex Jr. in contention for a Chase berth
Related: Standings | Chase clinching scenarios for Richmond
HAMPTON, Ga. – His wrist aching, his car spent, Martin Truex Jr. leaned against the No. 56 Toyota and sighed.
For weeks now, the Michael Waltrip Racing driver has been bouncing around the bubble that marks the cutoff point for this year’s Chase For The Sprint Cup.
One week he’s in, the next he’s not. One week his chances seem likely, the next not so much.
A broken wrist suffered a week earlier at Bristol didn’t help matters. Another week, another obstacle.
“It hurts like hell when you're in there just steering the car,” Truex Jr. said following his third-place finish in Sunday night’s Advocare 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“I mean, when you're steering back and forth here and you're out of control and you're holding on and you're sawing on the wheel and all the tires; it felt like every time I moved it somebody was hitting it with a hammer.”
The finish left him holding the No. 2 spot in the Wild Card standings. With one race remaining – the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels to Richmond International Speedway to settle matters – Truex Jr. leads Ryan Newman (Stewart-Haas Racing) by five points. Jeff Gordon (Hendrick Motorsports) leads both, but without a win, Gordon would find himself shut out of the playoff picture.
A fast race car can help a driver block out pain, and Truex Jr. definitely had a fast car at Atlanta. Not the fastest in the end – race winner Kyle Busch has that honor and Joey Logano was a close second. But when crew chief Chad Johnston made the necessary adjustments, Truex Jr.’s car came to life.
“Couldn't get it turning, burned the right rear off and kept battling through that and then we had to go to the rear with about 100 to go and really thought we were in big trouble,” he said, “but we were able to fight up through there and figured out what our car needed towards the end.
“We were probably one or two adjustments away from having something for Joey and Kyle, but all in all it was a good night for us.”
It was a slow, difficult climb back through the field for the 33-year-old who was forced to pit twice under green when an errant lug nut was caught between a wheel and brake caliper.
“I thought we were done, and I said ‘you might as well hand over a wild card,’ but we were able to fight through it,” Truex Jr. said of the issue, “so that's what we'll have to do next week, too.”
Living on the edge takes a toll and the Atlanta result was much needed after a 35th-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway a week earlier.
It wasn’t the team’s only miscue this season, but thus far Truex Jr. and his group have been able to rebound when it counted.
“There have been other races this year that we fell out of that killed us, too,” he said. “It is what it is; we'll have to go race hard and I’m proud that we're able to come here and have a good night when the pressure was on and we made it happen.”
As for the injury, Truex Jr. said the cast became soft, likely from perspiration, and that the team will “look into that.”
“I don't know what I can do to change that,” he said of the situation. “Probably just going to have to deal with it.”