We’ve been talking about Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin as being the favorites for this year’s NASCAR Cup Series championship this Fall in Phoenix. Rightfully so too. They’ve combined to win nine of the 20 races run this year including eight of the 16 since the pandemic.
But, one driver to watch out for now — Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate of Martin Truex Jr. He overcame a loose wheel penalty in the second stage of Sunday’s Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway to finish third in his No. 19 Toyota.
“Overall it was still a solid day,” said Truex. “I don’t think it matters who’s working on the car, who is on your crew, whatever. Any time something happens, you have to dig out of the hole the best you can.”
It was Truex’s seventh top 10 finish in his last eight starts on the Magic Mile including four of his last five being in the top five.
The JGR driver says he finished where he should have when it was all said and done. He cited that he just wasn’t as strong as race winner Brad Keselowski or his teammate in Hamlin.
“Yeah, I mean, I felt like we weren’t quite as good as those two guys,” Truex said of his finish. “Like I said, that first stage we ran second to the 11. He looked pretty strong. I was having some handling issues there. We never could quite get the car to do the things I needed to do here to win.
“We’ve had it doing those things here before, but it seems like we have a tough time finding out how to have it at the end of the race. Still a little bit more work to be done.
“Still a solid effort. I thought we were a third best car, fourth best car. I think the 4 was pretty strong at times as well. He kind of got messed around with track position. We finished where we should have. We just have to figure out how to get a little bit better here.”
Also, on the season, Truex has three top three finishes in his last four starts as he said after his runner-up on July 12 at the Kentucky Speedway that he felt like they were back. He’s not wrong.
He had a top five car at Texas before being crashed in a wreck not of his doing. If you go back to Pocono, Truex has been in the top 10 in five of the last seven races.
He’s starting to heat up and heading to strong tracks of his now.
“I’d say both,” Truex said on bad luck furthering bad finishes early. “I think the two go together. You start not running good, you get in spots where you probably shouldn’t be, you get crashed. It’s happened to us this year. We’ve gotten wrecked six or seven times just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“Seems like this sport, when it rains, it pours. When things aren’t going your way, seems like you can’t do anything right. I feel like they’ve been competitive, strong. They just have had a lot of weird things happen. I know exactly how he feels. I’ve been there many times.”
Truex says that while being strong on the flat tracks could bode well for Phoenix in November, he says part of JGR’s problem across the board is the tire combinations on them.
“It’s really tough to say just because I felt like our issues were things that we probably could have made better with some practice I think. You just got to hit it. Maybe we need to be a little bit smarter about our simulation, what setups we’re unloading at the racetrack. Maybe figure out something a little bit better with this tire this year. Seems like we’ve struggled a little bit more this year with some tire issues than some other teams.
“I speak for all the drivers at JGR when we say we kind of lack some of the feel we’re looking for in these tires. That may be part of it. Maybe they figured some things out there. We’re still kind of searching on that, I think.”