CONCORD, N.C. – Yes, Martin Truex Jr. wanted to throw something. Yes, he feels cursed.
And, yes, he laughed about it.
Laughed at leading a race-high 131 laps and not winning Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600. Laughed at another race where fuel mileage taunted and tormented him. Laughed as someone else – this time Carl Edwards – celebrated a victory that Truex seemed headed to score.
Truex wasn’t alone in how he felt after placing fifth in one of NASCAR’s most prestigious races. Crew chief Cole Pearn also chuckled.
“It kind of gets laughable at this point,’’ Pearn said.
What else is there to do? Truex has come close the past two points races – leading the most laps each time – but not won.
“I’m ready to go to work at 6 a.m. (Monday) and work all day and kick their ass next week,’’ Pearn said.
Move forward. That’s all one can do or risk drowning in misery.
Still, the disappointment was evident. After the checkered flag waved, Truex radioed his team: “I thought we had it. (Darn) it. (Darn) it.’’
Foiled again by fuel.
Truex led 95 laps at Kansas two weeks ago but was just shy of having enough fuel to make it to the end. Running second, he pitted with 10 laps to go under caution. Truex got the fuel he needed but Pearn decided not to change tires to be the first off pit road. Problem was that four cars did not pit. When the car in front of Truex got a poor restart, he was doomed and went from fifth to ninth in the final laps.
Sunday, Truex ran near the front most of the night with the same car he raced at Kansas. He looked to be on pace for his first Sprint Cup win since Sonoma in 2013.
Things changed when debris brought out what proved to be the race’s final caution on lap 338. A few cars pitted and gambled that this would be their final stop. The rest of the field still needed to pit.
Truex, who was leading at the time, pitted with 22 laps to go. Because the top four finishers – Edwards, Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth – made it on their fuel gambles, Truex had to settle for fifth.
“I didn’t even know the guys could make it on gas,’’ Truex said. “Just can’t catch a break.’’
It would have been easy for Truex to stomp off or curse anyone and anything for his misfortune. Instead, he leaned against his black car and did the only thing he could after a four-hour drive in circles. He laughed.
Perspective lessened the sting of this defeat. Truex doesn’t forget the struggles his team had last year when a top-15 finish was an accomplishment. He doesn’t forget leading one lap out of 10,541 a year ago. He doesn’t forget finishing 24th in the points – his worst finish in a full-season effort.
That makes Truex appreciate this year’s strong run where he has 11 top-10 finishes in 12 races and ranks second in the points a third of the way thought the season.
Truex also has gained perspective watching his longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, undergo treatment for ovarian cancer. Earlier this month, they helped raise more than $250,000 for the Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, N.C., and pediatric cancer research with their “Catwalk for a Cause” that pairs NASCAR drivers with children who are battling or have won their battle with cancer in a fashion show.
Experiences like those steel a person to disappointment.
On a night when he had every reason to be upset, Truex shrugged his shoulders, laughed and looked ahead to next week’s race at Dover International Speedway.
“I hope everybody is ready because we are going to be fast,’’ he said.
He wasn’t laughing this time.