Martin Truex Jr. entered the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs as arguably the hottest driver in the field. Yes, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick combined to win four of the last six races run to close out the 26 race regular season, but it was Truex who had nine top four finishes over the last 10 races himself.
He wrapped up the regular season with three runner-ups, five third place runs and a fourth place effort over the final 10 races. He was 22nd last Sunday in Darlington, but led the most laps (196), swept both stages and unfortunately was involved in a late race incident with Chase Elliott while battling for the lead with 14 to go. That’s why it’s been shocking that a former champion racing like this has been flying so far under the radar.
But, as Truex has openly noted the last several weeks, he needs playoff points. He entered the postseason with a sizeable gap to the leaders. Harvick had 57. Hamlin entered with 47. Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano had 29 and 22 respectively. Chase Elliott entered with 20. Truex only had 14.
If you want to keep advancing through the postseason, you need those playoff points in your pocket. They can save you from a bad race during one of the rounds. With having so few in comparison to the top, one bad race can make this year’s playoffs a living hell for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver.
See, Truex normally is way up there in playoff points. He dominates stage wins and race wins most seasons. For him to have just one victory accounted for in 2020, well it was holding him back. Those finishes to end the regular season were great, but they didn’t help his playoff point problem.
That’s why scoring two more of them last Sunday was so big.
So, this weekend’s race at Richmond is going to be key for him too. Truex Jr. has to be among the favorites to beat for Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m ET, NBCSN, MRN). He swept both races at Richmond last year. In fact, he’s won the last four races in the Virginia Commonwealth with winning the playoff race last October at Martinsville as well as the spring race on the .526-mile short track this past June. Can he make it 5-for-5?
A win is worth five playoff points. So, not only would he be able to advance to the next round, he can get at least up to 21 playoff points, if not more depending on stage wins, heading to Bristol which is a track that hasn’t been kind to him. Truex has one top 10 finish in his last 16 Bristol starts with him being 20th or worse in 12 of his last 14 tries there. His last top five came way back in 2012.
He doesn’t want to be facing a tense situation next week. That’s why Richmond is so crucial for him to get a win or at the very least a solid top five.