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Regular season Cup champion Truex already in playoff danger

Entering the 2023 NASCAR Cup playoffs, Martin Truex Jr. seemed primed to contend for a second series championship. Now, he’s just holding on.

Martin Truex Jr, Joe Gibbs Racing, Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry

Photo by: David Rosenblum / NKP / Motorsport Images

Truex powered through the first 26 races with three victories and entered last weekend’s playoff opener at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway with six top-10 finishes in his previous seven races.

Now, two races later, the top driver from the regular season is in danger of being eliminated from further title contention following next weekend’s race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.

The turnaround has been swift, starting with a loose wheel at Darlington that forced him to pit under green and left him with an 18th-place finish.

 

Sunday’s problems at Kansas Speedway came even more quickly and with more devasting results.

On lap four of 267, Truex was running in the top five when he blew a right-rear tire and slammed into the Turn 3 wall.

The damage to his No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was extensive and he was towed to the garage and ended his day in 36th.

“Just unfortunate and very unlucky,” Truex said after the incident. “I took off really tight and I knew something was up, and then cut a right rear. Not really sure what happened, obviously, but it blew in the worst place possible.

“I hate it for my guys. We had an awesome (car). We were going to have a great day, just not sure what we need to do to get some luck here.”

Goodyear officials confirmed after an examination that Truex’s right-rear tire suffered a puncture, so it wasn’t attributed to anything in the car’s set up.

That didn’t take away the disappointment, however.

“I knew something was up for sure, just didn’t realize it was going to blow the tire out. I felt like the right rear was soft,” Truex said. “I was hoping it was going to go down on the straightaway, not going into Turn 3.

“In hindsight, I guess I should have just pitted, but at that point in time, you just don’t know if the car is just really tight or what’s going on. It’s a real shame.”

With the vast majority of the race still to be run when he left the track, Truex wasn’t certain of his prospects to advance at Bristol.

He does know it will be difficult on a track on which he has not had a top five finish since March 2012.

“We will find out (the situation) when today’s over,” he said. “There is not a thing we can do about it right now.”

At the checkered flag, Truex found himself seven points below the cut-line with the elimination race at Bristol now looming ahead.

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