LOUDON, N.H. — This week’s L1-level penalty to the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 team has consequences both short- and long-term, and both involve Kyle Larson’s fellow championship front-runner Martin Truex Jr.
The immediate impact: Martin Truex Jr. is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points leader. He previously trailed Larson by one point, but the penalty announced Wednesday for the No. 42’s rear brake cooling assembly that didn’t meet standards included a 35-point penalty to the driver.
So now Larson trails Truex Jr. by 34 points in the regular-season standings with eight races remaining. These two, the class of the field throughout 2017, have been battling for the top two spots in the standings since late April.
MORE: Full series standings
The long-term impact: Finishing first in the regular-season standings would give Truex Jr. an easier path to Homestead-Miami for the championship-deciding race, and now he has the upper hand. Fifteen playoff points go to the regular-season points champion, while second place receives 10.
Truex Jr. already has an edge over everyone with 13 stage wins this season (Kyle Busch is second with four); each stage win is worth one playoff point. Adding the bonus for finishing as the regular-season points leader only pads his advantage.
Prior to the penalty, Truex Jr. would have had a 10-point edge over Kyle Larson in the playoff standings. Now? He would start the playoffs with 2,043 points, dwarfing Larson, who would have 2,023.
“We definitely want that 15 points, and we’re going to try everything we can do to get it,” Truex Jr. said Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “This week we were within one point Wednesday, and now we’ll try to hold. You just never know how things can go.
“At Sonoma and Daytona we finished 37th and (34th) two weeks in a row and lost a lot of points. It’s racing. You never know what can happen. We’re just going to try to do the best job we can do and let it fall where it does. It sure would be nice to have those 15 points, though.”