Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – FORT WORTH, TX – After Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Martin Truex Jr. felt as though he had just been through a trial by fire.
“I’m telling you, God is testing us,” said Truex, who had to start from the rear of the field after an engine change in his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota and later suffered both a loose wheel and a pit road penalty for driving through too many boxes.
“Had to start at the back, got to the front, hung around there for a while and then had a loose wheel there again,” Truex said. “Just a tough day. Overall, a good day. Luckily, we were able to get up front and get some stage points in the first two stages and then we had trouble, but we had it at least in time to recover.”
Two laps down at one point, Truex recovered to finish ninth and takes a 25-point edge over fifth place Kurt Busch into next Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Round of 8 elimination race at Phoenix, where the field will be cut to four.
Another saving grace for Truex was that Kevin Harvick won at Texas.
“Harvick or Kyle (Busch) winning is a perfect scenario—the guys that are ahead of you in points,” Truex said. “That was good. I feel OK about where we are. I think we need a little more speed to run with the Fords – they’re clearly really, really fast right now.
“If this was last year, they would all be complaining that we’re too fast, so I don’t know if I should do a (Brad) Keselowski and start whining about it or not. They’re really fast, and if we’re off just a little bit we can’t run with them.
“We were off a little bit today. On the short run, they were really fast, but on the long run I thought we were as good as anybody, but just never got to show it. Track position was so, so hard to get.”
KYLE BUSCH SURVIVES DIFFICULT TEXAS RACE WITH GOOD POINTS CUSHION
Almost from the outset of Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch’s race started to go south.
During a pit stop on Lap 32 under a competition caution, he entered the first sector of pit road too fast and was flagged for a penalty. Restarting from the rear of the field, Busch worked his way up to seventh by the end of Stage 1, but the second 85-lap segment brought more problems.
Ten laps after pitting on Lap 131, Busch brought his No. 18 Toyota to pit road again, thanks to a loose wheel. He fell two laps down and didn’t regain the lead lap until the race reached overtime. By then it was too late to climb higher than 17th at the finish.
Nonetheless, Busch goes to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Round of 8 elimination race with a 28-point lead over his brother, Kurt Busch, who stands fifth — the first driver below the current cut line.
“We had a fast car,” said Adam Stevens, Busch’s crew chief. “You speed on pit road, you go to the back and you have a loose wheel under green then lose a couple laps and we just couldn’t get back on the lead lap.
“Obviously, at the very end we did, but it didn’t matter at that point with only a green-white-checkered to finish. Felt like we had something we could have raced for. We didn’t make many adjustments, but nothing to show for it.”
IT’S ALL OR NOTHING FOR CHASE ELLIOTT AT PHOENIX
Chase Elliott is a realist. He knows that, without a victory next Sunday at Phoenix, he almost surely won’t be eligible for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title in the Nov. 18 Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Not that Elliott didn’t have a solid performance in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Under conditions that made passing difficult, he worked his way up from the 16th starting position, ran in the top 10 for most of the afternoon and finished sixth at the 1.5-mile track.
But on Sunday, solid wasn’t good enough. Elliott leaves Texas 39 points behind Martin Truex Jr., who currently holds the fourth spot in the Playoff standings. At Phoenix, the field will be cut from eight drivers to the four who will battle for the championship.
Elliott has never won at the one-mile track in the Sonoran Desert, but he does have a second and a third in his last two starts there.
“I mean, yeah, I feel better about Phoenix than I did about today, for sure,” Elliott said. “Yeah, we’ll see. I mean, I don’t know till we get there. Yeah, tough spot to be in.
“But, ultimately, you’ve got to be in a must‑win situation at Homestead if you ever make it down there, so you might as well get used to it and like it.”