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Second or better: Truex’s streak places him among NASCAR greats

Martin Truex Jr. has finished first or second in four of the past five NASCAR Cup Series seasons.

The pilot of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota placed second in the 2021 finale two weeks ago at Phoenix Raceway and ultimately went down in the standings as the runner-up. Fellow Championship 4 contender Kyle Larson won the race and therefore the title. Truex was 0.398 seconds short when the checkered flag waved at the 1-mile track in the Arizona desert.

“That’s three times we’ve been second, and that sucks,” Truex said on pit road afterward. “Second hurts, I’m not going to lie, especially with the car we had and the job the guys did.

“That’s racing, as they say, and sometimes you’re just not on the right end of things.”

Truex’s second-or-better trend started in 2017 when he won his first-ever title. Then, in 2018-19, Truex came in second. He was seventh in 2020 after being eliminated with the Round of 8’s conclusion. This year’s result marked the fourth occurrence in the five most recent playoff attempts.

RELATED: Martin Truex Jr.’s career through the years

Below is a closer look at how those seasons played out for Truex.

2017 1st 1st Martin Truex Jr. 8
2018 2nd 2nd Joey Logano 4
2019 2nd 2nd Kyle Busch 7
2020 7th 10th Chase Elliott 1
2021 2nd 2nd Kyle Larson 4

While second is not as satisfying as first — “Gosh, second sucks. I hate it.” — Truex’s current five-season run is still impressive and places the 41-year-old in the company of former NASCAR greats.

Other drivers who had streaks of seasons within the top two:

Herb Thomas … Five of six years from 1951-56. Champion in 1951 and 1953. Outside top two (fifth) in 1955.

Buck Baker … Four straight years from 1955-58. Champion in 1956-57.

Richard Petty … Four of five years from 1960-64. Champion in 1964. Outside top two (eighth) in 1961. … Six of seven years from 1971-77. Champion in 1971-72 and 1974-75. Outside top two (fifth) in 1973. … Five of six years from 1974-79. Champion in 1974-75 and 1979. Outside the top two (sixth) in 1978.

Cale Yarborough … Five of six years from 1973-78. Champion in 1976-78. Outside top two (ninth) in 1975.

Darrell Waltrip … Five of six years from 1981-86. Champion in 1981-82 and 1985. Outside top two (fifth) in 1984. … Four of five years from 1979-83. Champion in 1981-82. Outside top two (fifth) in 1980.

Dale Earnhardt … Five of six years from 1986-91. Champion in 1986-87 and 1990-91. Outside top two (third) in 1988. … Six of seven years from 1989-95. Champion in 1990-91 and 1993-94. Outside top two (12th) in 1992.

Jeff Gordon … Four straight years from 1995-98. Champion in 1995 and 1997-98.

Jimmie Johnson … Seven of eight years from 2003-10. Champion in 2006-10. Outside top two (fifth) in 2005.

Add in Truex and that’s 31 championships among nine champions.