Martin Truex Jr. finished eighth in the regular season finale Sunday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway and made up 22 points on Ryan Blaney.
It was a day most teams would take at a superspeedway race, but it wasn’t what Truex and Joe Gibbs Racing needed. The winless No. 19 missed the playoffs by three points after Austin Dillon won the race.
“We really did a good job, I think, to make up 22 points in one race is a big gain,” Truex said. “Unfortunately, it just wasn’t enough today. The Bass Pro Shops Toyota was really fast; we ran, I thought, a really smart race and just wrong place, wrong time, which 30 cars out here today could say that.
“It’s just frustrating here. We run well and then we get wrecked. At the end of the day, we still had a somewhat decent finish, but it really doesn’t matter.”
Truex was involved in the multi-car accident on lap 102 down the backstretch. It started at second place when Michael McDowell was tagged from behind and sent into the outside wall. Truex was running on the outside and nearly got past the accident before he got spun to the left, bounced off Ross Chastain and William Byron and slid through the grass.
But because he had outscored Blaney through the stages, Truex still had a fighting chance. He stayed on the lead lap while Blaney continued to limp around with a torn-up car of his own after being collected in a lap 31 crash.
Truex was still in contention to make the playoffs as the race took the green flag on the final restart. He lined up fourth behind Austin Cindric and pushed the Team Penske driver to the race lead. It was an ideal situation because Cindric already had a win.
“ right front fender was gone,” Truex said of his car. “I got the restart I needed and pushed the No. 2 to the lead, which I knew is what I had to do, and then I just couldn’t stay with them.”
Cindric led with Dillon second, Landon Cassill third, and Truex hanging onto the draft in fourth. When Noah Gragson and Tyler Reddick caught the four-car pack, the No. 19 lost the draft before Cassill was shuffled out with him, but neither could catch back up, and soon the rest of the lead pack overtook them.
“I just couldn’t make enough speed to push fast enough to keep up,” Truex said. “Then they came on us so fast from behind with a big run there was no way to stop that and then, at the end, I was just praying they would get two and three wide and I would wiggle my way back in there. We got back to eighth but obviously needed more.”
“Just had too much damage at the end. Just couldn’t keep up with them. The only chance I had was when they’d get side by side and start checking up the line, then I could get back to them. But just way too much damage to have the speed at the end to do anything at all.”
He knew the situation as he tried to hang on.
Truex misses the playoffs a year after finishing second in the championship. It will be his worst finish in the championship standings since 2014 after making a championship four appearance in five of the last seven years.
“It sucks,” Truex said. “No way of sugar-coating it. You race your off all year and work hard, and you try to do all the things it takes, and you come up three points short. It’s pretty tough to swallow when I know we could do something in the playoffs.”