Though Martin Truex Jr. finished sixth in Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway the final result wasn’t met with contentment with the Furniture Row Racing driver, who won the first two stages and had the dominant car until late-race inside lane restarts spoiled his chance of a victory.
Truex’s Furniture Row Racing teammate Erik Jones finished 13th.
“Without a shadow of a doubt our No. 78 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota was the best car out there,” said Truex. “But inside lane restarts at the end just killed us. Unlike the outside lane we just couldn’t get going each time we restarted in the inside lane. It stinks when you have to race that way.”
Race winner Kyle Larson concurred with Truex when he told the media in post-race interviews, “The (No.) 78 was the class of the field.”
Truex’s blue Auto-Owners Toyota was in control of the race, but when the caution came out on Lap 151 of 200 he restarted fifth after taking four tires and fuel. The four drivers ahead of him took two tires.
“Probably should have taken two tires that last time we pitted – we took four,” noted Truex. “That killed us. Just wrong lane on the restart every single time all day long and couldn’t use the best car to win.”
In each of the final four cautions Truex found himself in the inside lane. His car never could get going on those restarts and it was a handful just to hold his restarting position.
“Just in a bad spot and nothing you can do about it,” said Truex, who led 62 laps. “You have to have a little luck on your side and we didn’t today.”
Truex picked up 20 championship points and two playoff bonus points for winning the first two stages. However, he did drop to second in overall driver points to Kyle Larson, who has a five-point margin over Truex. The Stage wins were Truex’s series’ leading ninth and 10th of the season. His 20 playoff bonus points also rank No. 1.
A loose wheel on the No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Extra Strength Toyota Camry early in the race forced Jones to pit early and play catch up the rest of the afternoon. A long shot pit strategy by crew chief Chris Gayle saw Jones make consecutive right-side tire only stops in the second half of the race, running the final 108 laps on the same left-side tires. Jones moved up to second on the Lap 151 restart before dropping back to 13th at the checkered flag.
“Yeah, just a long day overall,” said Jones, a native of Byron, Mich. “Just never quite had the car we really needed. We were fighting just being free and as the day went on we never really fixed that issue and that loose wheel early kind of got us pinned in a strategy we didn’t want to be in. Had a lot of laps – I think we had 86 laps on our left side tires – and just couldn’t quite get it there at the end.”
Jones, who was the highest finishing rookie in the Michigan race, is 16th in overall driver points.
Following Kyle Larson to the checkered flag in order were: Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Jamie McMurray, Truex, Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson.
The race had 10 lead changes among four drivers and there were eight cautions for 34 laps.
The next race is Sunday June 25 at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, the first of two road races on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule.