KANSAS CITY, Kansas — The voice did little to mask the frustration, confusion and level of desperation.
For much of the season, Martin Truex Jr. has been in control, and at times dominant, winning four races and finishing in the top five in 17 of the first 31 starts entering last weekend’s race at Kansas Speedway.
But little went right for Truex on Sunday.
That the team finished fifth — in the odd stat category, all 18 of Truex’s top-10 finishes this year have been top fives — was a testament to its ability to persevere but the question is if that will be enough in this round? It helps that he has plenty of playoff points but that almost wasn’t enough to keep his title hopes alive beyond Kansas.
The issues they had with the car Saturday in practice weren’t resolved in the race. That proved frustrating for Truex and the team.
At the completion of the first stage on Lap 80, Truex radioed crew chief Cole Pearn: “I don’t know what to do. Maybe I just need to tighten this thing up and run the wall.”
Pearn responded: “We’re not making any ground with what we’re doing.”
About 25 laps later, Pearn asked Truex what he needed to run better near the wall. Truex said: “Everything. It does the same thing on the bottom. Won’t turn.”
Twice in the first 120 laps, Pearn brought Truex in early to start a wave of green-flag pit stops. Pearn did that with the hope that having fresh tires sooner would help the No. 78 leapfrog a few cars. The gain proved minimal.
On Lap 140, Truex, running 11th, told Pearn: “I’m so bad in traffic. It’s ridiculous.”
On Lap 165, Pearn told Truex, who was running sixth, that the points were tight and that “you’ve got to race as hard as you can.”
Truex said: “Doing all I can right now.”
He did enough to advance.
“We had to dig deep,” Truex said afterward. “A lot of pressure and a bad situation and we were able to come out looking good. That being said, we’ve had a lot of headwind that we’ve had to battle through the playoffs, we haven’t had much go our way.
“We had a few races like that this year, we had a few like that last year. Seems like this year they’ve been a little bit more frequent but again we finished fifth. You can’t complain too much. At the end of the day, we’re still searching a little bit at certain race tracks.”
One of the things that Truex can take away is how strong his pit crew was Sunday. Twice he gained four spots on pit road. The second time came after the end of the second stage and allowed Truex to restart sixth.
Even with his struggles, that track position was critical. He never ran worse than seventh in the final 100 laps and finished high enough to advance to third round and continue his quest for back-to-back Cup titles.
Don’t expect to see another Roval on the schedule at this point. Marcus Smith, chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports Inc. and creator of the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway, said after the event there that he was not looking at having another Roval at any of SMI’s other tracks.
“I feel like this is unique to Charlotte, and we’ve got other speedways out there that produce their own unique action,” Smith said.
International Speedway Corp., which owns 12 tracks that host Cup races, also does not have any plans at this point of turning one of its oval races into a Roval event.
Lesa France Kennedy, chief executive officer of ISC, praised Smith for the Roval.
“I think Marcus Smith did an amazing job of taking his idea from start to finish … to get to the point that he did,” Kennedy said this past weekend at Kansas Speedway. “I think the fan reaction was amazing. I think it’s created a lot of hype and attention to the sport and I really applaud him and his team’s efforts. I think everybody is paying attention.”
John Hunter Nemecheck’s victory in Saturday’s Xfinity race was celebrated throughout pit road among title contenders.
Nemechek was not eligible for the playoffs since he didn’t run the full season. His victory takes away an automatic spot to the championship finale in Miami and means at least two of the four contenders will advance via points.
“It was big because that keeps us all in play where it doesn’t give anybody an advantage for Homestead where you can work on your stuff (early) for that particular race,” Elliott Sadler told NBC Sports after the race.
A first-lap crash triggered by playoff contender Justin Allgaier took him out along with title contenders Christopher Bell and Austin Cindric. The incident also damaged playoff contender Cole Custer’s car.
The Xfinity Series is off this weekend. Teams are back in action Nov. 3 at Texas Motor Speedway.
NASCAR is expected to issue its penalty report Wednesday. Daniel Hemric‘s Xfinity car was found to be too low in post-race inspection. The likely L1 penalty will cost Hemric 10 points. If so, that will drop him out of the lead. He currently leads Elliott Sadler by nine points.
Should Hemric lose 10 points, it will put the top six drivers within 18 points.
NASCAR examined why the hood flew off Ross Chastain‘s Xfinity car during Saturday’s race. The car suffered front-end damage in an earlier incident.
NASCAR also planned to review this week why a caution was not called when Chastain’s hood flew off near Turn 3. It was run over and broken into smaller pieces.