After leading a race-high 95 laps and running near the front when he wasn’t pacing the field, Martin Truex Jr. never got the chance to go for the win.
A decision by crew chief Cole Pearn not to change any tires on Truex’s final pit stop backfired, and Truex left Kansas Speedway with a misleading ninth-place finish.
“I’m sorry, man,’’ Pearn said to Truex on the radio after the race. “We didn’t do you any favors. Had we taken two it probably would have worked out better. Sorry man.’’
“I hear you, man,’’ Truex responded. “Live and learn, bud. We’ll get one. You made the right call all year, so I wouldn’t get too upset about it.’’
“I wish we had half a gallon more,’’ Pearn said. “We could have at least thought about staying out there.
“I hear you, man,’’ Truex said. “I told you I hate fuel-milage races and that’s exactly why. They suck.’’
While Truex’s winless streak increased to 67 races since his last win – June 2013 at Sonoma – he again proved that this single-car team can compete with the sport’s top teams and is closing on a victory.
Truex is one of five drivers who have scored top-10 finishes in each of the four races on 1.5-mile tracks this season. Truex’s average finish of 6.5 in those races is better than every driver this season but Kevin Harvick (1.75 average finish), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (3.25) and Joey Logano (5.75).
“Definitely not the finish we wanted, obviously, but proud of the guys for the weekend we had, just had good speed all weekend,’’ Truex said.
Truex’s race turned when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. brought out the caution on Lap 257 in the 267-lap race. Harvick led but had been saving fuel. Truex was second and also had been doing so. Truex was about to make his charge when the caution waved.
Close on fuel, Pearn had Truex pit but didn’t change tires. The quicker stop allowed Truex to exit pit road first but four cars did not pit – eventual winner Jimmie Johnson, Earnhardt, Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon. Truex restarted fifth. Harvick, with two fresh tires, started sixth.
Busch, starting in front of Truex, got a poor jump and that boxed Truex with nowhere to go. By the time Busch got back to speed, Truex was too far from the leaders and with no fresh tires, fell back.
Had Truex taken two tires, he likely would have started behind Harvick, putting Truex sixth. In that scenario, he wouldn’t have been boxed in by Busch’s slow restart.
“We should have either stayed out or took new tires,’’ Truex said after the race. “We probably did the worst thing you could have done there with just staying out and getting gas only because we ended up being the last guy with no tires. Everybody else behind us had two and they ate us up on the restart.
“All in all, I told Cole that he’s still new at this, this is his first year calling races, and he’s been spot‑on all year long. He’s taken gambles when he needed to that paid off. He’s been smart when he needed to. He’s done everything right, and tonight he just … he didn’t make the right call.’’
Despite the disappointment, Truex sees progress with his team.
“I felt like we were more competitive this weekend than we’ve been,’’ he said. “We’ve been a consistent top-five to top-10 car. I felt like tonight we kind of gained a big step in speed, and hopefully that’s something that will continue.’’