Chase berth came down to the last lap for driver of the No. 56 car
RICHMOND, Va. -- There were engine issues and a broken wrist, potholes along the road that kept Martin Truex Jr. wondering if he would survive to fight another day.
Entering Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, the Michael Waltrip Racing driver tenuously held the No. 2 Wild Card spot for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
"Just every time we … got in a good position something bad happened," Truex Jr. said after his seventh-place finish finally earned him a Chase berth. "I'm proud that we were able to keep fighting. I just can’t believe it."
Life on the bubble these past few weeks has been stressful. It didn’t help that come race time, his No. 56 Toyota was fast on short sprints, not nearly as strong on long, green-flag runs. And the 26th race of the season had its share of the latter, going 137 consecutive laps before the first caution flag appeared, then 60 or more, then 50 and change in between interruptions.
"It was difficult all night," said Truex Jr., who will start next week's Chase at Chicago 12th in points, 15 behind points leader Matt Kenseth. "The car was not good.
"We were fast on the short runs; on long runs no matter what I did I couldn't keep the tires on it. The run before the last caution, trying to hold off the 24 (of Jeff Gordon), I have no idea how I did it. The tires were just sliding everywhere, it wouldn’t turn, I couldn’t touch the gas, I couldn’t get in the corner, it wouldn’t do anything.”
Worse yet, he said, was trying to keep up with what others in similar points positions were doing. With the list of those in and out of the Chase picture swapping nearly as quickly as cars could speed around the 0.75-mile speedway, keeping an eye on one's own status proved difficult.
The message from his team rarely changed, though, Truex Jr. said.
“Every single time I asked them, they said, ‘You’re not in it, you’re not in. You’re two points out. The 22 (of Joey Logano) getting it now,” he said. “It was just all night long. We weren’t in it, we weren’t in it, we weren’t in it.
“And then all of a sudden I take the white flag (signifying the final lap) and they’re saying ‘Pass one more car. You’ve got to pass that car.’ I passed the car and here we are.”
With less than 20 laps remaining, it appeared as if Ryan Newman was en route to the win, a result that would allow him to ease out of the state capitol with the second Chase Wild Card berth.
But when Clint Bowyer, Truex Jr.’s teammate at MWR, spun to bring out the final caution with less than 10 laps remaining, the leaders hit pit road, a dozen or more took a wave around, some chose to stay out, and what seemed cut and dried only moments before suddenly took an entirely different appearance.
Newman lost time in the pits. Others lost positions due to worn tires. Truex Jr., however, surged, the run just short enough to allow him to pick up the much-needed position.
“I thought at no point … we had a chance,” said Truex Jr., who will be making his third appearance in the Chase. “I knew the 22 was running really bad. He had a win. Newman had a win. We were only five points apart. (Newman) was running way better than we were.”
About 100 laps into the race, he said, “I said I’m not going to worry about it any more. I’m going to try to keep working on my car to get it better.
“That’s all I could do at that point.”
In the end, it was just enough.