DAYTONA BEACH, Fla – In his first race in defending his 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship, Martin Truex Jr. had a rather interesting day in Sunday’s Daytona 500. Truex, started 24th, but quickly found his way up front battling for the lead in the first stage. He gained 10 spots in the first seven laps of the race. In fact, like last year, he did his best to earn stage points finishing fifth and sixth respectively in the first two stages of the Great American Race. What’s funny is, Truex and his Furniture Row Racing team weren’t necessarily going for stage points in Daytona. They were going after the win and hoping the chips may fall how their lay.
Unfortunately, his day ended with an 18th place finish in the 2018 season opener. His full race though, was battling back from several mishaps.
“Not the day we were looking for,” said Truex. “We were in a good spot there, a really good position with under a few laps to go running under green and the caution came out and changed everything.”
First, he got into Kyle Larson on the Lap 59 incident in Turn 3. On the final lap of the first stage, a nine car accident occured when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was desperately trying to block Ryan Blaney and hold onto his second place running position. Stenhouse, went from the top side of the backstretch, to the bottom, then back to the top which caused mayhem behind. Luckily for Truex, he was behind it far enough that he escaped too much damage when he made contact with Larson.
On the Lap 103 Big One in Turn 3, Truex was slightly involved in that one too, making light contact in his No. 78 Toyota. Like the first crash, he’d continue on and stay in the hunt of the lead pack.
Then, Truex hit pit road on Lap 123, but an issue with the teams jack and a penalty for an uncontrolled tire left him in 14th place for the ensuing Lap 127 restart. He quickly moved up to eighth six laps later, and would remain there for the next 13 laps. He’d pit again for fuel only on the Lap 171 caution flag and came out in third by virtue of the gamble. Three laps later, he was in second place. When William Byron brought out the eighth caution flag of the race on Lap 189, some of the drivers came back down pit road, Truex didn’t. He’d restart the race second with seven laps-to-go.
Truex quickly shuffled back in the field and decided to stay there as the frontrunners made contact with each other almost continuously over the next couple laps. Then, on Lap 199, Truex was unable to avoid another multicar incident and the resulting damage required extensive time on pit road during overtime which dropped him two laps to the leaders. He returned to finish the race during the green-white-checkered finish.
“It was our day for a while and then it wasn’t,” said Truex. “It’s just the way it goes. Superspeedway racing – a lot of it is out of your control. That last caution in hindsight, we probably should have gotten tires. Tried to come up from the back because we were sitting ducks upfront. I’d get back there but didn’t have the speed to get by them. It was just one of those deals where we needed it to stay green to be in a good spot. It just didn’t work out in the end.”
Crossing the checkered flag in the end was a good thing for how his day went. Being involved in all three big accidents, having a pit road penalty and still finishing is a testament on how good this team can be again in 2018.