Ryan: Does NASCAR really want Martin Truex Jr. to be the bad guy?

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Martin Truex Jr. is a good guy.

He does good things for other people. He finds the good in some very bad situations. He is good in the way he carries himself in the face of great adversity, whether a potentially career-ending sponsor loss or a life-and-death matter.

And yet none of that good seems to benefit him on the racetrack.

Ever.

“I’ve told Martin forever he’s too nice,” NASCAR on NBC analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. said on Sunday’s postrace show, essentially noting the former teammate and longtime confidante he loves as a buddy also is the same guy behind the wheel.

Martin Truex Jr. is a good guy … and that probably cost him another victory Sunday.

Here is the quandary for Truex – and really for the collective NASCAR universe:

In order to win more frequently, and possibly in order to defend his 2017 championship, Truex knows that, on the track, he has to stop being a nice guy.

But what if — because of his God-given skillset, his easygoing demeanor and his code of ethics — he can’t stop being a nice guy?

And even if he could, do we really want him to stop being a nice guy – even if it means he finally breaks through for victories at short tracks and restrictor-plate tracks?

It is no coincidence that Truex, one of the Cup circuit’s most selfless drivers who rarely gets caught gouging anyone, remains winless at the two types of tracks that offer the greatest reward for selfishness and dirty pool.

The No. 78 Toyota driver said it himself last year: In order to win at Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway, he knows he “has to be more of a jerk” at the tracks dependent on pack drafting (and all of its hostile blocking and broken promises) because he “gives too much room.”

Truex is never a jerk, though. Just witness his 2018 season – four victories but who knows how many more if he would have laid the bumper more aggressively and forcefully the way others often have done to him?

At Bristol Motor Speedway, Truex was charging to the front with 70 laps remaining when he was wrecked by Kyle Busch during a pass for second.

At the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, he was cruising toward a victory when he was clipped by Jimmie Johnson and knocked out of first entering the final turn.

At Martinsville Speedway, Truex seemed headed to the first checkered flag on a Cup short track when Joey Logano booted him from the lead off the final corner.

The simplest way to win on a short track is to drive through the guy in front of you. It’s a move that Truex rarely makes, and Sunday was no exception.

For several laps around the 0.526-mile oval, he stalked Logano and waited to make a clean pass for the lead until Lap 499 of 500 despite several opportunities to drill the No. 22 Ford earlier.

You can argue the moral relativism all day about whether Logano (who also is a good guy, by the way) was justified in reacting to losing the lead by making that move (and with a championship berth at stake, the Team Penske star has a virtually airtight case), but what’s indisputable is that Truex didn’t play nearly as rough as Logano did on the last lap.

Detractors probably will say that maybe it’s not so much that Truex doesn’t want to race that way as much as that he can’t necessarily race that way.

He is among the steadiest, smoothest and tidiest drivers in NASCAR. His career renaissance of 17 wins in the past four seasons has been marked by his mastery of 1.5-mile tracks (where it’s about setup and pure speed) and road courses (where strategy and perfect laps often determine winners). You won’t find any wins by Truex in which he led only the final lap.

He drives to the limits of his car and rarely beyond them – and almost never at other’s expense. He has much more in common with Mark Martin or even Rusty Wallace, who always seemed in a similar way to be on the short end of the stick with Dale Earnhardt Sr. in their many famous tussles.

Being a good guy can be a tough business. There still might be some good that comes from Sunday’s third-place finish for Truex and Furniture Row Racing.

Based on the bellicose stances in the seething postrace interviews of Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn, it seemed as if the team with a natural rebellious streak had its recalcitrant swagger back for the first time since the announcement of its impending shutdown.

Furniture Row Racing, once described as “a band of misfits” by Truex, has predicated most of its championship-caliber success by embracing the “Us Against the World!” mentality. The Unconventional Team That Could still will be closing its doors in Denver after three more weeks, but it now has a defiant rallying cry to spur its finishing kick at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead-Miami Speedway.

And if any more motivation were needed, Sunday spawned reams of bulletin-board material on social media and some corners of establishment media.

Truex’s angry reaction was shamed on Twitter for being “too whiny” and his moves were dissected to the nth degree. “Why did you race so fairly and cleanly,” the angry mob seemed to be demanding, “when you could have punted the other guy and scooted to a win?”

Why?

Because Martin Truex Jr. is a good guy. A nice guy.

Should he really have to change that?

The answer says a lot more about us than him.

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Kyle Busch ends the season No. 1

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The 2019 season is over and Kyle Busch is the NASCAR Cup champion. And not surprisingly, the younger Busch brother also ends the season as No. 1 in this week’s Power Rankings.

Busch received 39 of 40 possible points to take the No. 1 spot, followed by the other three Championship 4 contenders: Martin Truex Jr. (35 points), and Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick (tied for third place with 28 points each).

The biggest surprises in this week’s standings were Xfinity Series champ Tyler Reddick in fifth and Gander Outdoors Truck Series champ Matt Crafton in sixth.

Here’s this week’s Power Rankings:

1. Kyle Busch (39 points): Finally gets that second title. Last week: Second.

2. Martin Truex Jr. (35 points): Inexcusable pit mistake left him as the championship runner-up for the second year in a row. Last week: Fourth.

(tie) 3. Denny Hamlin (28 points): Came so close to his first championship, only to be fall short yet again. Could this be the closest he’ll get? Last week: First.

(tie) 3. Kevin Harvick (28 points): Needed a bit more help than he got going against the Joe Gibbs Racing juggernaut. Still, a very strong season regardless. Last week: Third.

5. Tyler Reddick (18 points): It’s hard enough to win one championship, but back-to-back championships with two different teams? Last week: Unranked.

6. Matt Crafton (14 points): Wins the championship without even winning a race (in fact, his last win was more than two years ago). Thrived on his underdog status. Last week: Unranked.

7. Ryan Blaney (12 points): Finished 11th or better, including a win at Talladega, in five of the last six playoff races. Last week: Fifth.

(tie) 8. Joey Logano (11 points): Ends year with four consecutive top 10s, but he fell short in making it to the championship round and defending last year’s title. Last week: Eighth.

(tie) 8. Erik Jones (11 points): Ends season with four top 10s in last five races. That bodes well for next season. Last week: Seventh.

10. Christopher Bell (6 points): Missed his chance to add an Xfinity title to his Truck championship. Still, with eight wins, had an outstanding season. Up next: a promotion to the Cup Series. Last week: 10th.

Others receiving votes: Kyle Larson (5 points), Clint Bowyer (5 points), Cole Custer (4 points), Austin Hill (2 points), Brad Keselowski (1 point), Brett Moffitt (1 point).

Zane Smith joins GMS Racing for full-time Truck Series ride

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Zane Smith will compete full-time for GMS Racing in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series next year, the team announced Tuesday.

Smith, 20, joins the team after competing part-time with JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series this year, where his best result in 10 races was fifth twice.

He will be GMS Racing’s fourth full-time entry next year, joining Brett Moffitt, Sheldon Creed and Tyler Ankrum. Sam Mayer will compete part-time.

Smith will have veteran Kevin “Bono” Manion as his crew chief.

“When I got the offer from Mike Beam asking me to run a truck full-time for GMS Racing, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” Smith said in a press release. “GMS is a championship-caliber team and to be a part of an organization like theirs is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m looking forward to working with Manion again. He has a lot of experience and I know we will be a great team.”

Manion, who has 24 wins across all three national NASCAR series since 2003, joins GMS Racing after serving as a crew chief for DGR-Crosley in 2019, including working with Rookie of the Year Tyler Ankrum. Manion was crew chief for Smith in 2018 when he made his Truck Series debut at Gateway and finished fifth.

“I am really excited to join GMS Racing and Zane (Smith) for the 2020 season,” Manion said in a press release. “With GMS Racing’s championship caliber equipment and Chevrolet support, we have all the resources to win some races and be in the hunt for the 2020 Championship. I got the opportunity to crew chief Zane (Smith) in his first Gander Trucks start in 2018 at Gateway and we worked really well together. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish next season.”

Sponsorship and an assigned truck number for Smith will be announced at a later date.

Penalty report from Homestead-Miami Speedway

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NASCAR issued four fines and one suspension for lug nut violations during its championship weekend in Miami.

Cup Series

Mike Wheeler, crew crew chief on Matt DiBenedetto‘s No. 95 Toyota, was fined $10,000 for one unsecured lug nut.

Xfinity Series

Mike Shiplett, crew chief on Cole Custer‘s No. 00 Ford, was fined $5,000 for an unsecured lug nut.

Truck Series

Steve Lane, the owner of On Point Motorsports and crew chief on Danny Bohn‘s No. 30 Toyota, was fined $5,000 and suspended one points race for two unsecured lug nuts. The No. 30 truck competed part-time this season and made 16 starts. The team told NBC Sports it will not appeal the penalty.

Trip Bruce III, crew chief on Stewart Friesen‘s No. 52 Chevrolet, was fined $2,500 for one unsecured lug nut.

Other

NASCAR issued an indefinite suspension to Jeffrey Schmidt for violating its substance abuse policy.

Truck Series gets minor name change for 2020

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Four days after the end of the Gander Outdoors Truck Series season, NASCAR announced the series will receive a minor name change for the 2020 season.

The series will be called the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series when the season starts in February at Daytona International Speedway.

This is the second name change for the series in two years.

This season saw the name change from the Camping World Truck Series, which had been the title from 2009-2018.

Gander Outdoors and Camping World are owned by the same company.

Next year will also see a different name for the Cup Series. With the series going to a new sponsorship model, it will simply be called the NASCAR Cup Series.