First, the good news for Martin Truex Jr. He won the first stage of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. He picked up an additional 10 standing points and one playoff point. He now leads the Cup series with four stage wins and ranks second with nine playoff points, which carry through the first three rounds of the post season.
But after winning the first stage (Lap 130 of 500), Truex’s No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota was never the same on the half-mile track. He struggled with handling issues and brought the flat-black car home to a 16th-place finish, between seven time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson (15th) and current points leader Kyle Larson (17th).
Though the result was Truex’s worst in the first six races of the 2017 season, he still remained third in the driver point standings.
“I just couldn’t drive off the corner,” said Truex, who led a total of 42 laps. “The car pushed and nothing appeared to be right after the first stage. It was nice to at least get something out of the race by winning the first stage and picking up more valuable points. Those extra playoff points could turn out to be very important when we get into the post season.”
Truex, who drove with a high level of tenacity during the 500 lapper, appeared to be gaining ground late in the race. But as he was attempting to pass Matt Kenseth for sixth on Lap 430, the cars of Truex and Kenseth made contact, sending Truex into a smoky spin and all the way back to 17th place.
“That could have been the end of the day for us, but our Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota survived major damage,” explained Truex. “We were able to hang on at the end. We’re not sure why we lost our performance edge after the first stage but our guys will look at everything and get it right. This was not the way we wanted to finish our first short track race of the season.”
The race winner was Brad Keselowski. Rounding out the top-10 in order were: Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Austin Dillon, AJ Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
The race had 18 lead changes among seven drivers and 14 cautions for 95 laps.
The next NASCAR Cup Series race is Sunday, April 9 at the newly-repaved 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.