Of the six second-place finishes Martin Truex Jr. has posted since winning his first and only NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race back in 2007, the runner-up result Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway was the toughest to take.
In reality, though, Truex’s failure to win in a superior car was no big thing. It was a lot of small things—miniscule things—that combined to make Kyle Busch a winner and Truex the epitome of frustration.
It’s not every night that Truex and his Michael Waltrip Racing team can go toe-to-toe with Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing and know they have a superior car. But that was the case Saturday night, when Truex led 142 laps and, on one occasion, opened a lead of more than four seconds over Busch in second place.
If the race had been decided on the race track, Truex might have won. Unfortunately for Truex and his No. 56 Toyota team, what happened on pit road tipped the scales in Busch’s favor.
On Lap 314 of 334, NASCAR called a caution for debris in Turn 4. The lead-lap cars came to pit road for new tires, essential for a final green-flag run that, as it turned out, lasted 16 laps. Busch’s veteran pit crew pulled off a stop in 11.7 seconds, according to crew chief Dave Rogers.
From pit stall No. 1, the closest to the exit from pit road, Busch beat Truex to the timing line that sets the order for the restart—beat him badly. Taking the green flag from the outside lane, Truex could barely hold the second position, much less challenge Busch for the lead.
That was the race, pure and simple. Busch pulled away to a comfortable lead. Though Truex whittled away at the advantage over the closing laps, he ran out of time and finished a half-second behind.
"Second sucks," Truex said after the race. "It just hurts when you give them away."
In fact, Truex gave away nothing. Rather, Busch took the win away from him, and he did so through the little things that define the difference between success and failure.
The final pit stop was the fulcrum, but it was simply a microcosm of what was happening throughout the race. In eight pit stops combined—under yellow and green—Busch spent 279.927 seconds on pit road. Truex, on the other hand, needed 292.820 seconds to negotiate pit road, nearly 13 seconds more.
Translated to an average, Truex used 1.612 seconds more per pit stop than Busch did. That’s an enormous difference through the course of a race.
Bear in mind that those numbers relate to total time on pit road, from entrance to exit. Busch has an uncanny knack for getting to his pit stall in the shortest possible time. He’s had the same over-the-wall crew since 2008, and "his guys" know each other’s every move.
The bottom line is that Truex had the speed to win the race, but he didn’t have all of the other essential components. If his team is serious about mounting a championship challenge, the areas where improvement is needed are obvious.
Truex’s last win came at Dover on June 4, 2007 in a race delayed by rain till Monday. Truex smoked the field that day, winning by 7.355 seconds, but the celebration was muted, because NASCAR icon Bill France Jr. had passed away during the event.
If and when Truex wins another Cup race, he would have the second longest stretch between victories. As of Saturday night, his drought has reached 210 races, the third longest current streak behind Bobby Labonte and Joe Nemechek for drivers who have won at least one race.
If and when Truex wins again, may the celebration be loud and raucous. For a victory will mean that Truex and his MWR team have taken the next necessary steps in what has already been a methodical rise to prominence.
When the taste of second places turns bitter, as it did for Truex on Saturday, there’s only one remedy. The frustration of Texas may well prove the catalyst that will propel Truex to Victory Lane before season’s end.