Martin Truex Jr. takes the safe route to runner-up finish at Martinsville

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Martin Truex Jr. came close to earning a fourth win in this season’s first seven NASCAR Cup playoffs in Sunday’s First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

But when the checkered flag fell, Truex wound up with a runner-up finish — by about a car length — to race winner Kyle Busch, Truex’s 16th top-five finish of the season.

Truex counted himself lucky that he wasn’t involved in any of the late race issues like between Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott.

“It’s just Martinsville you know? Short-track racing,” he said.

But it was more than just close racing at Martinsville, Truex added.

“At the end everybody’s trying to get to Homestead – punch your ticket,” he said. “But you know, it was a really good day for our team.”

It was Truex’s best career finish at the .526-mile paper clip-shaped bullring. Prior to Sunday, his best finish at the southern Virginia track were a pair of fifth-place finishes.

“This has been a struggle for us, this place,” Truex said. “You know, to run second here is awesome. I think we had a fifth- or sixth-place car all day long.

“We couldn’t quite get better than that, but I’m really proud of that effort for everybody – for all our guys. So we fought hard all day, we didn’t give up and we had a shot at it there at the last lap. Got inside of Kyle (Busch), just couldn’t get the power down off of (turn) four.”

While Truex raced Busch clean, he wondered – especially after the Denny Hamlin-Chase Elliott wreck with three laps to go in regulation – if maybe he shouldn’t have been so much Mr. Nice Guy. But there’s always the chance that he could also wind up wrecking himself, so he demurred.

“I didn’t want to be the one to knock him out of the way for the win,” Truex said of Busch. “Maybe I should have, but I don’t know.

“Those guys kept knocking each other out of the way up there in the front, I’m not sure that’s the way to do it.”

Truex and the rest of the NASCAR Cup contingent move on to next Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway. Truex has to be considered one of the frontrunners in that race, as six of his seven wins this season have come on a 1.5-mile track just like TMS.

“You know, good day for us and we’ll go to Texas next week and see if we can’t continue our mile-and-half runs,” Truex said.