Hard luck Martin Truex, Jr. still chasing a win
Martin Truex Jr. has seen this movie before. It is the story of an underdog driver who raises expectations by winning early in his career, then goes year after year without ever returning to Victory Lane. Of course, after enduring countless disappointments, our hero finally triumphs. He takes the checkered flag, grabs the trophy and smiles broadly as the closing credits roll. That has to be the ending, right?
Well, unfortunately for Truex, he keeps stumbling into the Alfred Hitchcock version of the movie, where apparently no happy endings are allowed. Truex experienced this personal horror show once again on Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway. He led nearly half the 334 laps in the race and maintained the lead with only 21 laps to go. Then a caution flag came out for debris on the track, Truex lost the lead to Kyle Busch during the ensuing pit stop, and he glumly followed Busch to a second-place finish.
Truex experienced a similar situation last September at Atlanta Motor Speedway. In that race he was only five laps from victory when a flat tire on Jamie McMurray's car brought out the caution flag. Truex had been literally less than three minutes away from snapping his winless streak (which was 191 races at the time). Instead, he again lost the race off pit road -- this time to Denny Hamlin -- spun his tires on the restart and watched Hamlin pull away for the victory that should have been his to enjoy.
Some drivers, like Busch and Jimmie Johnson, seemingly scoop up wins as easily as they gather loose change. Not Truex. He has now gone 210 races dating to the 2007 season without experiencing the thrill of victory. And he obviously is tired of it.
"Shoulda, coulda, woulda," Truex fumed Saturday night when asked about the late caution. "It happened to us a few times last year, too. I'm just disappointed. The race was over when we got beat out of the pits. I'm just tired of finishing second. It's getting old.
"This felt like Atlanta. We were leading the race and got beat out of the pits there. We had a five- or six-second lead, everybody pitted, we came in first and went out second, and that was the race, just like it was tonight. So frustrating."
It appears things might get even worse for Truex this week. His car failed post-race inspection because the front end was too low. While NASCAR probably will not deem this to be an intentional violation -- Truex crew chief Chad Johnston blamed faulty shocks -- Truex likely will be hit with a reduction in points.
And after a dreadfully slow start to the season, Truex cannot afford to lose many points if he wants to make a return appearance in the Chase for the Championship this year. His performance at Texas was his first top-5 run of the season and only his second top-10. He has finished outside the top-20 in three of the seven races this season. Even with Saturday's runner-up performance, Truex is in 16th place in the point standings, and even a modest points reduction could drop him down to 20th.
"We've had a rough season so far as finishes go," Truex said before learning about the inspection violation. "Finishing second is good. I'm not saying that's not the case. It's just when you've been so close to winning so many times since your last one, it really sucks to run that good and finish second.
"It just hurts when you give them away. It's so hard to get in position to win these races. It is so hard to make your car good enough to beat Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch and all these guys. And we had that tonight. We have to get better at taking advantage of that. That's where we're missing, and that's what we need to work on. So that's why I'm upset. Second is a great accomplishment, but it's not what we're here for."
Next up for the Sprint Cup Series is Kansas Speedway, where Truex finished -- you guessed it -- second in both races last year. It's a sequel he is tired of seeing.
1. Kyle Busch (1st previously) -- With two victories and five consecutive top-five finishes, Busch unquestionably is the hottest driver on the circuit. If his maturity level is finally matching his talent level, then he might make a serious run at the championship for the first time.
2. Jimmie Johnson (3rd) -- Johnson is the only other driver with two wins this season, but his 22nd-place finish at Bristol last month prevents him from occupying the top spot in the power rankings.
3. Brad Keselowski (2nd) -- Despite his post-race complaint that NASCAR has "targeted" his team for extra scrutiny, Keselowski continues to rip off top-10 finishes with regularity.
4. Carl Edwards (10th) -- Edwards appears to have recovered from his dismal 2012 season. He already has four top-five finishes this year, second only to Kyle Busch.
5. Kasey Kahne (4th) -- Kahne has never been strong at Texas (only five top-10s in 18 starts), so his 11th-place finish Saturday is no reason for disappointment.
6. Greg Biffle (8th) -- Biffle continues to be good, but not great. His fourth-place showing at Texas was his first top-5 of the year, but he is the only driver to have finished in the top-20 of all seven races this season.
7. Matt Kenseth (5th) -- Since winning at Las Vegas in only his third start for Joe Gibbs Racing, Kenseth has managed just one top-10 finish over the past four races.
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (6th) -- Mistakes by both the driver and the team led to a 29th-place showing at Texas. It's still way too early to panic, but consecutive finishes outside the top-20 is not a good sign.
9. Clint Bowyer (7th) -- Bowyer, who had an uneventful 15th-place run on Saturday, has been consistently inconsistent this season, finishing outside the top-10 every other race.
10. Joey Logano (unranked) -- Tony Stewart might disagree, but Logano is developing into a legitimate Chase contender. He has two top-5 finishes in the past three races (which is two more than Stewart has this season).