Truex Jr. cast aside in aftermath of controversy
September 13, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
The Michael Waltrip Racing driver appeared to have clinched a berth in this year’s Chase For The Sprint Cup with a seventh-place finish in the Federated Auto Parts 400.
Two days later, NASCAR officials punished the MWR organization for violations deemed “detrimental to stock car racing,” and the resulting penalties included losses of 50 points for each of the group’s three drivers.
That left Truex Jr. out of the Chase picture, standing on the sidelines while officials investigated additional alleged infractions involving Penske Racing and Front Row Motorsports.
On Friday, NASCAR announced its findings. After viewing audio and video evidence, and speaking with the two parties, Penske and Front Row organizations were placed on probation for the remainder of 2013.
In addition, four-time NASCAR Cup champ Jeff Gordon was added to the Chase, bringing the number of teams competing for the championship to 13.
Moments before that bombshell dropped, Truex Jr. was outside his hauler, trying to put into words what the past week has been like for the 33-year-old.
“All I did the last two weeks was drive my heart out,” Truex Jr. said. “… We ran third at Atlanta. We had a 20th-place car at Richmond. We battled our tails off to finish seventh with it and really that's as far as it goes for me.
“When the (Richmond) race was over, I wasn't aware of what happened, what the cautions were for. … It’s tough to swallow. It's a difficult situation, like I said, for all of us.
“… I went from feeling like I really climbed a mountain in that race at Richmond to going to be knocked out of the Chase and all that. Do I think it's fair? You know, I don't know. I don't run the sport, so we'll just have to deal with it."
On top of everything else, he said, it was discovered that an injury suffered in late August at Bristol left him with two broken bones in his right wrist, not just one as the initial diagnosis had shown.
Conversations with team officials and teammates have been limited – Truex Jr. said he hasn’t spoken to teammate Clint Bowyer, who’s spin with seven laps remaining at Richmond sparked questions of impropriety. And he’s avoided much of the media coverage of what has since transpired.
Ty Norris, general manager at MWR, apologized for his actions -- audio of Norris’ conversation with Vickers, telling him to pit under green because “we need that one point” that giving up a position on the track would provide -- Truex Jr. said.
He straight up said, 'I screwed up, it was the heat of the moment and made a bad decision,’ Truex Jr. said.
“Things happen. Again, that stuff happened and just gave us a chance. It didn't put us in (the Chase). I wasn't in until the last lap. I passed the 16 (of Greg Biffle) on the very last lap and that's what put us in.
“We were tied with Newman. It went to second-place finishes that's what got us in. It gave us a chance.
“Obviously, people thought it was unfair and we are where we are."
Asked about the possibility of adding Gordon to the Chase field, Truex Jr. said his own team was just as deserving as any in the 10-race playoff.
“If they're going to start putting people back in, they ought to consider us, too," he said.
Moments later, NASCAR Chairman Brian France made the announcement. Gordon was in.
And Truex Jr. was still on the sidelines, the end of a surreal week not quite in sight.