While Martin Truex Jr. didn’t win the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, his runner-up finish — and points he amassed through the course of the day, via stage finishes — secured him a spot in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Much of Truex’s day was uneventful. Starting seventh, he drove his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota to a runner-up finish in the first stage and fourth in the second stage. It wasn’t until the Lap 187 restart — following Landon Cassill’s spin in Turn 1 on Lap 180 — that he first took the race lead, usurping it from Matt Kenseth.
Truex gave up the lead to pit under green on Lap 225, and it most likely would’ve cycled back to him if a caution, for Michael McDowell spinning in Turn 2, on Lap 234 didn’t interrupt it.
He regained the lead on the restart that followed Ray Black Jr.’s spin on Lap 242, once again taking it from Kenseth.
Everybody hit pit road on Lap 270, after Black brought out another caution, and Denny Hamlin beat Truex off pit road.
After a 10-minute, 29-second red flag following Kyle Larson’s wreck in Turn 1 with 51 laps to go, the race went back green for the final time with 46 to go. By the time the field left Turn 2, Truex had the lead.
With 27 to go, Kevin Harvick took second from Hamlin and Truex ran into lap traffic, allowing Harvick to eat away at the one-second gap. With 20 to go, Harvick was less than half a second back of Truex.
Clean air allowed Truex to stay in front of Harvick for a few laps, but running into another group of lapped cars with 10 to go gave Harvick the opening he needed to pull up to him in Turn 1, alongside him on the outside exiting Turn 2 and take the lead entering Turn 3.
“[On] the long runs I would get really lose getting into the corners,” Truex said. “As the runs went, I would get looser and looser. Wasn’t much I could do about it. I could hold my own in clean air. As soon as I caught lap cars, I would get loose getting in the corner. We ran up on the 6 (Trevor Bayne) and somebody else racing each other, took up the whole racetrack. I went into (Turn) 1 and started chattering rear tires, chasing it up the hill. Harvick followed me and got loose with me. Somehow got to my right rear corner, got outside me, just carrying that momentum.
“I thought when we went in there and we both started sliding up, I was going to be okay. He got to my outside and was just faster at the end. Once he got in front of us, he was just gone. Nothing I could do. Just one of those deals where he was quicker. Got me in a bad spot, took advantage, and he was gone.”
Truex couldn’t muster up a counterattack, as Harvick pulled away to a two-second lead by the time he took the checkered flag, and brought his car home to second.
“It was an up‑and‑down day for our Bass Pro Toyota,” he said. “Doing what we need to do. Just proud of everybody. We fought hard all day. It was a tough race. Track was slick.
“At the start of the race, our car wasn’t very good. Track position was a big part of this race. We fought the car, we fought track position. We got the lead, led some laps. Ultimately at the end we weren’t as good as we needed to be to win.”
While Truex came up short, his runner-up garnered him enough points to mathematically clinch a spot in the Championship 4 in two weeks time at Homestead-Miami Speedway, thanks to leaving Texas 57 points ahead of Brad Keselowski.
“It feels great. It feels amazing – that’s what we set out to do this year was to make it to Homestead and fight for the title and we feel like we’re right there. I just can’t wait to get there and get back to work,” Truex added. “I wish we could have won today, it would have been a little sweeter going and locking it up in victory lane, but we were off a little bit there at the end.”