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Close but no victory cigar again for Truex Jr.

September 03, 2012, Mark Aumann,

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Driver bobbles on late restart, loses another chance to break winless streak

Martin Truex Jr. was within five laps of having a night to remember at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Instead, he would up with a finish he'd rather forget.

Holding a lead of more than two seconds over Jeff Gordon at that point, Truex was not only on his way to clinching a Chase spot, but doing in winning fashion.

"People keep asking, 'When are you going to win? When are you going to win?' And we're close. It just sucks we couldn't get it done [Sunday]."


Then Jamie McMurray's right front tire exploded. As soon as the yellow lights came on around the track to indicate a caution, Truex couldn't believe his luck.

"I pretty much about threw up," Truex said.

After saving enough fuel to make it to the finish, Truex -- and the rest of the leaders -- were faced with one more pit stop. His stop was flawless, but Denny Hamlin's was better.

Hamlin beat Truex to the scoring line by less than a car-length, which left Truex in the outside lane for the restart. At that point, he pretty much knew the inevitable conclusion.

"I had trouble all night on the outside on restarts," Truex said. "Denny knew that, and that's why he kept picking the bottom. As soon as I tried to go to third gear, I just would light the tires up and there was nothing I could do about it. I really don't know why it was doing it, but every restart it did the same thing and I'd get beat into Turn 1."

Sure enough, Truex's car bobbled as soon as the green flag dropped, and he wound up literally spinning his wheels as Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski went by.

And just like at Kansas, where Hamlin chased him down and passed him for the win with four laps to go, Saturday night's fourth-place finish was another bitter pill to swallow for Truex, who hasn't been to Victory Lane since 2007.

There might not have been another person at the track more apologetic for spoiling Truex's night than the race winner.

"Circumstances just fell our way at the end," Hamlin said. "I'm 70 percent happy for me and 30 percent sad for [team owner] Michael [Waltrip] and Martin, because they've come so close."

After Truex climbed from his No. 56 Toyota, there was a steady stream of handshakes and backslaps -- starting with Waltrip -- but Truex wasn't in the mood to celebrate a berth in the Chase just yet.

"There will be plenty of positives tomorrow, but it's tough to lose them when you haven't won in a long time," Truex said. "People keep asking, 'When are you going to win? When are you going to win?' And we're close. It just sucks we couldn't get it done [Sunday]."

While the crew peeled the tape off the sponsor's banner from the pit wall and rolled it up, then rolled the car slowly up pit row toward the garage area, Truex answered one more question and walked away, surrounded by friends and family but alone in his thoughts.

Close doesn't count in NASCAR, no matter what the long-term outcome might be.

"I'm pretty disappointed," Truex said. "It sure would have been nice to get a win. I've been pretty close here recently. It sucks when you have one locked up like that and the caution comes out. But that's the way it goes. We weren't good enough on the restarts, so I wasn't good enough [Sunday]."