It was a familiar sight in the closing laps of the Saturday night’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway.
Martin Truex Jr.‘s No. 78 Toyota leading the field, seemingly on his way to another win on a 1.5-mile track.
“I thought with five to go were going to be in good shape,” Truex said.
Then “the switch flipped.”
“I got tight and started shaking the right front tire and I knew I was in trouble,” Truex said.
Very quickly, the No. 4 Ford of Kevin Harvick bore down on him.
“We had been so tight all night and I didn’t know where to go once he was getting there,” Truex told Fox Sports 1. “If I go to the top, he’s just going to catch me on the bottom. I might as well run where I feel I can run the fastest, and I did and it just wasn’t enough.”
On four fresher tires, Harvick took the lead and led the final two laps.
Last year, on his way to winning the title, Truex won a series-record seven races at 1.5-mile tracks. But the tide began to shift in November at Texas Motor Speedway when Harvick passed Truex with 10 laps to go and claimed the win.
Since then, Harvick’s won four of six races on 1.5-mile tracks.
“We’re going to have to find something,” Truex said in his post-race conference. “We’re going to have to find some speed, and I think our cars are capable. We’ve had good speed throughout the season at points. We just haven’t been as consistent as last year in finding it. I feel like the box for us is a little bit smaller.
Truex then deadpanned, “It’s pretty evident that the Fords have an unfair advantage this year, so I’ll just throw that out there.”
Truex’s remark prompted an exchange with third-place finisher Joey Logano, who drives a Ford for Team Penske.
Logano: Boy have the tides turned and you don’t like it.
Truex: How does it feel?
Logano: “How does it feel? Not as good as the 4, I can tell you that much. (laughs). I’m still chasing a car that’s way faster then me. It used to be the 78, now it’s the 4 at this point.
Truex had entered the race seeking a third consecutive win at Kansas Speedway after sweeping the track’s events last year.
The No. 78 team was coming off a rough stretch of races after its win at Auto Club Speedway in March. Prior to finishing fourth at Dover last week, Truex hadn’t finished better than 14th in the previous four races.
After qualifying seventh but not having a presence in the top 10 for much of the race Saturday, Truex took the lead on a Lap 253 restart after electing to not pit. He kept it through another restart, leading 13 laps before Harvick passed him.
“I think the last couple years we’ve both ran up front a lot,” Truex said of him and Harvick. “I wish I was first tonight. I don’t know who’s got the better of the firsts in the one‑two finishes between the both of us, but for me, it’s kind of really cool feather in the cap to be racing with Kevin and his team for wins and consistently running up front with those guys. They’re really good at what they do. I feel like since him and (crew chief) Rodney (Childers) got together in 2014, they’ve been consistently one of the guys to beat year in and year out. Anytime you’re out there racing with these guys fighting for wins, battling it out, that’s where you want to be. They’re a stout group. …
“They’re hitting on all cylinders. They’ve got a great balanced race car and they’re doing all the right things. I feel like we’re just a step behind that.”