A gritty Martin Truex Jr. came back from adversity to finish fifth and rookie Erik Jones had another stalwart performance with a sixth-place result Sunday in the NASCAR Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Truex, who led 112 laps in the 300-lap race, won the first stage and picked up another playoff bonus point, bringing his total to 59. (Note: there were only three lap leaders in the race: Kyle Busch (187), Truex (112) and Kyle Larson (1).
Truex was easily on his way to winning the second stage, but on the final lap of the stage he got collected in a multicar accident that started in front of him on the backstretch of the 1-mile oval.
“I could not see anything and I was just approaching the smoke and I’m like, ‘Oh no, where am I going to go?’ I mean, literally I couldn’t see anything.” explained Truex about the accident. “I just kind of kept slowing down and the 33 (Jeffrey Earnhardt) came by me on the outside and hit me and spun me down through there. Just unfortunate.
“We were coming to the green-white-checkered to win the second stage that would have been another bonus point, which would be helpful and, of course, you know we had damage and had to fight from the back of the pack the rest of the day. So proud of our effort to run fifth after all that, but it definitely (the accident) hurt our day.”
Truex’s No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota Camry suffered aerodynamic damage in the melee, but fortunately his crew was able to make repairs on pit road to send him back out. He restarted the final stage 18th and fought hard on one of the most difficult tracks to pass on to capture his 12th top-five and 19th top-10 finish of the season.
“We had a fast race car that was definitely capable of winning,” said Truex. “But after the accident the aero setback was too much to contend with to challenge for the victory. We gave it everything we had to come back and get a top five.”
Furniture Row Racing crew chief Cole Pearn said, “There’s something about this track that keeps us from winning. We had fast cars here the past four races, But I am happy that we had a fast car today and the way we battled back to finish fifth.”
Following a caution on Lap 264 and running 10th, Pearn made a strategic call when he opted for right-side tires only, which put Martin in the lead when the race restarted. But the cars that took four tires were difficult to fend off. The two-tire decision did make a difference in the end with Truex advancing five positions when the checkered flag waved.
Truex continues to lead the playoff standings with a 24-point lead and has an automatic transfer into the next round of the playoffs (Round of 12) as a result of winning last week at Chicagoland Speedway.
Jones, driving the No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Toyota, was steady throughout the race. But during the final 150-lap stage his car was loose, then tight and back to loose. He moved into second place on Lap 200 and was fifth when the caution slowed the field on Lap 264.
“I thought we were about a third-place car all day and just kind of missed the adjustment there on that long green-flag run and lost some track position,” said Jones. “I got behind a little bit and then never could quite get the car back the way it was. We just couldn’t quite close it out, but a strong day again for us.”
Jones finished fourth in both Stage 1 and Stage 2, picking up 14 championship points. He ranks 19th in the driver point standings.
The ISM Connect 300 race winner was Kyle Busch. Rounding out the top 10 were Kyle Larson, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, Truex, Jones, Clint Bowyer, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano.
The race had six lead changes among three drivers and six cautions for 32 laps.
The next race is Sunday, Oct. 1 at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.