Martin Truex Jr. didn’t post the sexiest fifth-place finish on Sunday, but it was hard fought nonetheless.
After picking up his 19th stage win of 2017 and leading 112 laps at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Truex appeared destined to be sailing off to his green and white checkered flag when all hell broke loose coming out of Turn 2 with one lap remaining to decide the stage.
Like most of the field, Truex’s view was obstructed by the smoke from Kevin Harvick’s car and the No. 78 Toyota plowed into Dale Earnhardt Jr. Truex dropped from first to 18th as Kyle Busch raced off to the stage win.
“I could not see anything and I was just approaching the smoke and I’m like, ‘Oh no, where am I going to go?’ Literally I couldn’t see anything and my spotter said go low,” Truex said. “By then, it was kind of too late and I was already like to the smoke and I couldn’t commit. I just kind of like just kept slowing down and the 33 (Jeffrey Earnhardt) just came by me on the outside and hit me and spun me down through there, so just unfortunate, you know?
“We were coming to the green-white-checkered to win the second stage there, which would have been another bonus point, which would be helpful.”
The march forward
After the race returned to green on Lap 160, Truex quickly gained five positions in the first five laps of Stage 3. Eleven laps later, Truex passed Kasey Kahne for 12th. On Lap 180, Truex passed Joey Logano for 11th — and in limbo as he fought chattering tires. After nearly 30 laps, Truex broke into the top 10.
He retained his position when the cars pitted during the third caution on Lap 221. On the restart, Truex raced up to eighth and passed Ryan Blaney for seventh over the next five laps. Over the next 15 laps, Truex battled Jimmie Johnson but could not pass the No. 48 Chevy despite moving inside of the left rear quarter-panel.
On Lap 265, Kasey Kahne slowed in Turn 4 to trigger the fourth caution. The No. 78 team elected to take two tires during their fourth and final pit stop which provided Truex with the lead. While the position was short-lived, as race-winner Kyle Busch and second-place Kyle Larson quickly motored past the No. 78 car over the next two cautions and 10 laps, Truex held onto third-place until Matt Kenseth passed him with six laps remaining. Brad Keselowski cleared Truex for fourth on the next lap.
Still, with his 12th top-five finish of the season, Truex maintained a 24-point lead over Larson.
“We had damage and had to fight from the back of the pack the rest of the day,” Truex added. “So proud of our effort to run fifth after all that, but it definitely hurt our day.”
Busch was impressed by the No. 78 team’s ability to battle back from adversity despite being delivered a blow halfway through the race. With his third win of the season, Busch picked up 11 points on Truex.
“Yeah, that was a good recovery for those guys,” Busch said. “Obviously they took two tires there. I wasn't sure how that was going to work out for them, but it was two tires on 30‑lap tires, 37‑lap tires, and he was beating them up pretty well. So I expected him to fade a little bit, probably more so than fifth, but that was a respectable day for sure for the issues they had.”