Martin Truex Jr. is quietly right there in the mix for this year’s NASCAR Cup Series championship. Kevin Harvick just earned his fifth win of the season in Saturday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at the Michigan International Speedway. Brad Keselowski finished runner-up to him for his third consecutive top two finish and 16th top 10 of the year. Only Harvick has more (18) than him.
Throw in Denny Hamlin’s five Cup wins on the year too and seven top six finishes in his last 10 starts on the year, and you can see why Truex is being overlooked right now.
That’s okay to him. Truex, finished third in his No. 19 Toyota in Saturday’s race on the 2-mile track. He’s now had three straight third place finishes on the year and four top three’s in his last five starts overall. It was also his 12th top 10 of the season too as only Harvick, Keselowski, Hamlin and Kurt Busch have more.
“You know, I think I would say that in general we’ve been top 3 every single race except for Bristol,” said Truex . Our cars are strong. Our team is really doing a great job bringing fast cars.
“I felt like Texas — Texas, Kentucky, a lot of these places that we’ve been I feel like we’ve been good enough to win, and today we were right there again, as well. With no practice or anything, I feel like the guys are doing a good job of getting the cars where we need them to be.
“We certainly would like to have more wins and feel like we maybe should have a few more, but that’s racing and that’s how it goes. Really proud of the effort and obviously stringing together some top-3 finishes has been good, and especially when you finish third and you feel like you’ve underachieved, that’s a good feeling to have.
“We feel good about things and we’re consistent as we need to be. We feel good about it, and hopefully we’ll continue.”
But, the top five nearly didn’t happen. Truex, had early race contact with Tyler Reddick and cut down a right front tire. He’d have to pit for repairs sand finish 35th and 31st respectively in the two stages.
“Oh, definitely happy, proud of everybody, and just not giving up on it and really just battled back just like I did last week,” Truex said. “You never like to have to go to the rear. For us it took us the first two stages we were trapped a lap down, so that was tough, but good obviously recovery in stage 3 to get to the front and stay there, and thought our Auto Owners Camry was really fast. Felt good about that, and hopefully we can make a few tweaks to it and be a little better tomorrow.”
Truex, said it was frustrating to make such small contact and have such a big consequence of that and thankful to make it up in the end.
“I mean, it’s frustrating when you make such a small mistake and have to pay such a big consequence,” Truex continued. “But I would say that in general, I’ve been in that same situation many times, and I barely, barely, barely touched him on accident, obviously, and I must have just hit him in the perfect spot because it cut down my tire and then his.
“Very, very slight contact, and it’s frustrating for sure, but you look at all the restarts at the end, guys are banging into each other, and the front and rear bumpers are really strong, so you can use those. Really just side to side contact could be a big deal if you mess up like I did. Again, that was a mistake that really cost us a lot of stage points and Reddick, as well. So I hated that for him, that he was a victim of my mistake.
“Yeah, I was surprised it happened really, really surprised. But fortunately we were able to overcome it.”
Then, in the end, there he was back in the top five and he never relinquished his spot up front. Now, can he make up enough overnight to catch Harvick on Sunday?
“You know, I think we have some ideas of ways to help our car do the things we need it to do. I don’t know that we can get all the way there to be honest with you. Typically if you look at past history here with this package, those guys really excel on tracks like this where you need low drag and high horsepower and things like that. They’ve got a really good combination at the tracks where you can get away with doing that.
“I would say that for us, it’s not been our strongest suit being these really fast tracks. I think our cars are just inherently draggy and we pay the price a little bit more I think than most guys at the fast tracks. I don’t know, we’ll see. We’re going to try for sure and give it all we got. I know everybody back at our shop works incredibly hard and does a lot of things to try to make us the best cars out there, and I think we’re really close.
“I think our car was just really, really fast today, and maybe not as fast as the 4, but pretty dang close, and I didn’t see anybody better. If we can gain on it a little bit, maybe we can give them a run for their money tomorrow.”