Martin Truex Jr. drove the No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet to a 10th-place finish in Saturday night’s Sprint Cup Series race, his first top-10 performance of the season, and it could have been even better.
“I thought we had a shot at a top-five there, but the short runs were just killing us,” Truex said after stepping out of his car on pit road. “We just couldn’t take off for the first 15 or 20 laps of a run. All those guys up there were really fast and we weren’t. We had a really good car on those last couple of long runs, but we had short runs at the end. We have to figure out how to get that short run going. Those long runs toward the end, we had something for them.
“It was a good day for us.”
The first thing he said, once the helmet came off and he grabbed a drink of water, was more enthusiastic.
“We finally finished one!”
The 10th-place finish in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway broke a string of unfortunate results for the Denver, Colo.-based team, which had a number of mechanical issues during the first eight races of the season. The team’s best finish prior to Saturday night was 14th at Las Vegas.
“Nothing fell out of the sky and hit us,” Truex said of finally shedding the bad racing luck. “We kept the air in the tires all night. We worked hard on it.”
They certainly did. Rolling off 22nd at the start, Truex patiently felt out what he had until the competition caution flag waved at lap 40. Crew chief Todd Berrier made air pressure and track bar adjustments, and Truex made the most of them.
Restarting 21st, he gained two spots in three laps to 19th. In 10 laps, he was 16th and passed Paul Menard for 15th five laps later. He had worked his way to 12th at the 100-lap mark, only to see the handle on his Chevrolet get tighter and tighter. Through the middle stages, he fell back to 20th.
“We didn’t have a great car in the beginning,” he said. “We fell back once, got off, got really tight in the middle part of the race, and Todd did a really good job getting it back.”
It took a while, undoing some changes from the second pit stop and adding more adjustments that helped it further. By the time lap 289 rolled around, Truex was back in rhythm and heading for the top 10.
On that lap, he passed two cars to move into ninth, and the thought of a top-five started perking.
For the last 100 laps, Truex ran no worse than 11th, and was sixth on lap 380 when the first of three late-race restarts took place. The last one came with nine laps remaining.
Truex was not able to take off as well as the other cars, and dropped to 10th in the final four laps after a couple of three-wide battles all around the track.
It wasn’t as good as Truex hoped, but it was a lot better than what it could have been.
“I think the biggest thing is finally shaking bad luck,” he said. “We’ve had good cars all year. We’ve had top-10 cars a lot of the races, not all of them. The team’s done a good job and we have had some weird things happen. We’ve had a lot of tire problems, obviously, but at the end of the day, we focus on how we’ve been running.
“You have to take something good out of each week, no matter how bad it went, and we just keep doing that and building on it. The guys are doing a good job, so we obviously have to get a little bit better. We’re chipping away at it.”
The finish moved Truex up one spot in the points to 27th after nine races, just 29 points out of the top 25.