A handling problem with the No. 78 5-hour ENERGY Extra Strength Toyota Camry in the first of the four-stage NASCAR All-Star race Saturday night prevented Martin Truex Jr. from transferring to the 10-driver, 10-lap final stage and a chance to win the $1 million prize.
Truex finished 11th in the third stage but 19th- and 13th-place showings in the first two stages weren’t good enough to add up to a strong enough average to transfer to the fourth and final stage at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“That first stage put us in a deep hole,” said Truex. “The only good news that came out of tonight is that it was a non-points race. I am confident that we’ll be much better next week in the 600.” (Truex is the defending champion of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. He won last year’s race in record fashion, leading 392 of 400 laps)
Truex called over the radio on Lap 5 of Stage 1 that the front tires were chattering and that the No. 78 5-hour ENERGY Extra Strength Toyota was riding rough. He slipped in the running order and crossed the line 19th at the end of the 20-lap segment. The team was then assessed a penalty on the ensuing pit stop for a crew member over the wall too early.
Crew chief Cole Pearn called for the optional soft tires for Stage 2 on the 1.5-mile tri-oval. Truex began the stage in the 19th position. Though the handling issues dissipated, the mostly single-file racing only allowed him the opportunity to pick up only six spots in the 20-lap segment.
Stage 3 found Truex move into the top 10 by Lap 49 but he was back to 13th just four laps later. He was able to move the 5-hour ENERGY Toyota back to 11th by the end of the stage on Lap 60 but his high finish average eliminated him from the competition.
Erik Jones and the No. 77 SiriusXM Toyota team raced in the 50-lap Open for the opportunity to transfer into the All-Star race. Coming to the start/finish line and three laps remaining in the final 10-lap stage, Jones made a strong move for the lead but dropped the left-front tire into the grass and damaged the fender. The subsequent tire rub caused him to spin the next lap and his race was over.
"Going down the backstretch I was hoping they would stay side-by-side,” said Jones. “I had been up by the wall a few times and had some good runs and knew if they would stay side-by-side that I could get a really good one. I got a good run and tried to go to the top and there wasn't any room so I went to the bottom and couldn't really see behind the 24 (Chase Elliott). I couldn’t see where the grass began so I just hoped there was enough pavement down there to make a move and get clear, but unfortunately there wasn't and that was the end of our day. I knew if we could get the SiriusXM Camry out front that we could probably drive away from them, but it just didn't work out."