HAMPTON, GA — Martin Truex Jr. says that the box score says one thing but the true story of his day says another. See, he was supposed to start the Quaker State 400 in fifth. Instead, he started Sunday’s race already behind the eight ball. It took three times through inspection before his No. 19 Toyota passed. That meant he had to drop to the back at the start of the race and lose precious track position in a spot that he has never won at.
Still, it only took him 49 laps before he catapulted himself into the top 10. He’d finish ninth in the first stage. Then, he had troubles on pit road and would restart 24th to begin the second stage. He’d make up back up to 10th in the next 80 laps to get himself back in the hunt.
Truex, was a force from then on out and would finish third for just his third top five result in the last 11 races run on the season. In fact, five of his previous eight finishes had seen him come home 18th or worse.
But, for how he had to drive through the field twice on Sunday and still get a top five, it was momentum building for him for sure.
“It’s funny you look at results and oh, you started fifth and finished third, that’s a pretty good day,” he said. “We went through a lot today on our Auto Owners Toyota Camry. … We definitely had the speed to battle for the win at the end, just had to come from too far back.
“I’m proud of everyone at (Joe Gibbs Racing), Toyota, TRD. Everyone at the shop is working really hard getting our stuff better. It just had the feel I was looking for today. We were good on the short runs and good on the long runs. I’m glad to be back running up front.”
Next up is New Hampshire a place where Truex has five straight top six results. Then, its to Watkins Glen where he has three straight top two results. After is the inaugural road course race at Indy before going to Michigan a week later in which he has four straight top four finishes.
This could be the time where Truex gets back in the championship conversation again. While he’s 0-for-24 in Atlanta, he does now have 10 top nine finishes in his last 11 including four top fives in his last five.
He had plenty of Toyota company up front on Sunday too. Kyle Busch was runner-up for his fourth straight top three finish on the season including seven in the last 11. He was runner-up on this track last year too and fifth in the spring race. This was his eighth top seven result in his last 10 Atlanta starts as he swept both stages on Saturday in leading 97 laps in the Xfinity Series win as well as winning the first stage on Sunday and was second in Stage 2. For his tracks coming up, Busch has seven top three finishes including four runner-ups and two wins in his last 13 New Hampshire starts. In Watkins Glen, he has seven top seven finishes in his last nine tries. Then at Michigan he has six straight top sixes there.
Denny Hamlin was in the top five at the end of both stages on Sunday but a speeding penalty to between the end of the second stage and the start of the final stage forced him to a 13th place run. Still, we go now to Loudon where Hamlin has two runner-ups in-a-row. Then to Watkins Glen where he has three top fours in his last four starts, then after Indy it’s to Michigan where he can win at too.
Christopher Bell had a quiet day in his No. 20 Toyota to finish eighth for his second straight top 10 finish.
It’s been since 2014 since a Toyota won, but all four drivers in the JGR camp looked good on Sunday as brighter weeks are ahead too.
They were 2-3-5 a year ago, 4-5-9 this spring and now 2-3-8-13 on Sunday.