Martin Truex Jr. admits team ‘just missed it’ with once dominant car

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CONCORD, N.C. – Martin Truex Jr. had the same car he dominated Charlotte Motor Speedway with in May, but it did not have the same performance Sunday afternoon.

Although he started seventh, Truex never posed much of a threat for the victory in the Bank of America 500, placing 13th.

It was a surprising turn of events after Truex led 392 of 400 laps in the Coca-Cola 600 en route to picking up his first win of the season. It was also the same car that went to victory lane three weeks ago at Chicagoland Speedway in the Chase opener.

“We just missed it,” Truex said as he walked through the garage. “We had good speed; we just needed clean air to be able to do it because we were on a splitter so bad. I don’t know, we just missed our travels for some reason and were just plowing the hell out of the ground all day long. We made a few packer adjustments to try and get it off the ground, we just never did go far enough.

“Even with that said,,  we still had a second-, third-, fourth-place car towards the end of the race, which for as bad as we were is saying something because it wasn’t very good. We just missed it. Kind of banking off what we did here in the first race and just didn’t get enough practice to work out those little details.”

With an average running position of 9.93, Truex was in contention for a top-five finish until he lost his track position on the race’s final pit stop. After entering pit road fourth, the No. 78 car stalled when Truex went to pull out of his pit box, a faulty clutch the culprit.

“Just freak deal with the clutch going out,” Truex said. “I’m not sure what happened there; clutch engaged itself and stalled the engine then we just sitting there dead. So luckily it started in gear. I was worried it wasn’t going to start at all, so luckily it started and we got back going.”

Things could have been worse, Truex acknowledges. He escaped without damage when he got into the back of Austin Dillon on a Lap 260 restart. The crash claimed a total of 11 cars, including Chase contenders Dillon and Chase Elliott.

Truex took the blame over the Furniture Row Racing team radio and admitted following the race he had made a “stupid” move.

“I flat ran Austin over,” Truex said. “He got going pretty good, started spinning his tires a little, and I tried to give him a shove to get him going, thinking I was going to help him out, and I guess hit him way too hard. I thought I was square, and we were going to be good, and I was just going to help him out. As soon as I hit him, just turned him around, so completely my fault. I feel awful for him and Slugger (Labbe, crew chief) and all those guys and all the other guys I tore up behind him. I just misjudged it trying to help. Just a stupid move, I guess.”

The positive from Sunday is that Truex remains above the Chase cutoff line heading into Kansas Speedway. Five other Chase drivers finished 30th or worse Sunday, giving Truex a 19-point advantage over Dillon, who is the first driver out of a transfer spot.

“I think we’re fine,” Truex said looking forward. “One race at a time. Thirteenth, like I said, it was a disappointing ending to our day, but all in all, a lot of guys had a lot worse days. You only got to beat four of them. We’ve got a good track next week, and we’ll go get after them in Kansas.”

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Jamie McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in must-win scenario at Kansas

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Going into Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas Speedway, Jamie McMurray and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are likely to be among the four drivers eliminated from playoff contention.

Stenhouse is 22 points back from the final transfer spot and McMurray is 29 points back.

Both drivers talked with NASCAR America before the race (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) about being in a must-win scenario to keep their playoff hopes alive.

Watch the above video for the interviews.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kevin Harvick. His first oval win since Kansas Speedway a year ago validates the team’s 1.5-mile speed in the playoffs.

Dustin Long

Kyle Busch. Mark it down, he wins and advances to the next round to continue his quest for a second title.

Daniel McFadin

Martin Truex Jr. keeps his foot on the throat of the competition and gets his sixth win of the year at a 1.5-mile track.

Jerry Bonkowski

Kyle Larson is starting 13th but expect him to get to the top five within the first 20-30 laps. He needs a strong run to give him momentum heading into the Round of 8 and he gets it Sunday.

Furniture Row Racing crew member dies of heart attack

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas – James “Jim” Watson, a fabricator for Furniture Row Racing, died Saturday night after suffering a heart attack, the team stated Sunday morning. Watson was 55.

A native of Greenfield, Wisconsin, Watson had been a member of Furniture Row Racing since February. He worked for Roush Fenway Racing from 2006-15 and spent last season with HScott Motorsports. He was a long-time racer, competing in dirt late models and asphalt super late models throughout Southeast Wisconsin.

Watson was with the team this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

He is survived by wife Laurie and daughter Brittany.

“On behalf of Furniture Row Racing we extend our deepest sympathies to Jim’s family,” said Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing. “He was an outstanding and talented member of our racing family, whose life was dedicated to racing since his early days as a race-car driver in Wisconsin. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jim’s wife Laurie, daughter Brittany and to his entire family and friends. Our No. 77 and 78 teams will be racing with heavy hearts today.”

Ryan Blaney ready to prove doubters wrong

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — Ryan Blaney has a bit of a chip on his shoulder this weekend.

The 23-year-old driver for the Wood Brothers seeks to hold off three former champions today at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) for a spot in the next round of the Cup playoffs.

Even though former champions Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth trail Blaney in the points, some say Blaney won’t hold them off and advance to the Round of 8.

“I’ve heard that all week that we don’t really deserve to be here, so that kind of ticked me off a little bit,’’ Blaney said Friday after qualifying.

“They just say we’ve been kind of overachieving or they didn’t expect us to be here. Those little things kind of make you a little bit irritated because our guys do just as good a job as anybody. They deserve to be here. They work their tails off like anybody else. Hopefully, we can prove that Sunday.’’

MORE: Wood Brothers lifeline started with a phone call

Blaney’s job, though, will be more difficult. He will start last in the 40-car field because his car failed inspection after qualifying. Kenseth (third), Busch (seventh) and Johnson (13th) all start in the top 15 and should be able to work their way into the top 10 to score stage points by Lap 80 when the first stage ends. Blaney will be challenged to do so and could see his advantage on each shrink. 

There’s hope for Blaney because he posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s final Cup practice. But he ranked ninth in average over 10 consecutive laps — behind Busch and Kenseth.

“There’s definitely things we can improve on,’’ Blaney said after placing third in Saturday’s Xfinity race. “(In the Cup race) everyone is going to be kind of married to the wall pretty early in a run. It might be hard to pass. Hopefully, we can work the bottom. I think the Cup cars might wear the top out, might over-rubber it where we have to move down a little bit.’’

With starting in the rear of the field, changing weather conditions (the wind is not expected to be as prevalent today as Saturday) and facing an elimination race, it would be easy for the pressure build on a driver and team.

“I really don’t feel that it’s a different weekend,’’ he said, alluding to the battle for the final playoff spots. “More people are paying attention to it because it’s a big deal. There’s four cars pretty much going for two spots. We try to approach it as any other weekend. It will be more challenging coming from the back.’’

Along with starting at the rear for the penalty, Blaney’s team had to pick last for pit stalls for failing inspection after qualifying.

His team would have had the third pick and he would have had an opening either before or after his stall, making it easier to either enter or exit. Now, he’ll be sandwiched between Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Provided both stay on the lead lap, Blaney could face challenges squeezing into his stall throughout the race.

“It doesn’t help our situation for sure,’’ Blaney said. “Those are two good cars. We’ll kind of be pitched between them all day. Dale actually sent me a text. Teams work well with each other about that. That will be tough for us. That will be another challenge.’’

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