Martin Truex Jr. overcomes challenges to score top-10 finish

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Reigning champion Martin Truex Jr. and his Furniture Row Racing team are not making their race for back-to-back championships easy these final weeks together.

For the second consecutive race, Truex had to start at the back of the field. While he came back to nearly win at Martinsville last week, Truex didn’t challenge for the win Sunday after a loose wheel and pit road penalty left him settling for a ninth-place finish.

“It’s been a tough season,” Truex said of what will be his final year with Furniture Row Racing, which will close after the season. “If things can go wrong, they do.”

Even with various challenges, Truex left Texas Motor Speedway in the final transfer spot to the championship race in Miami. He holds a 25-point lead on Kurt Busch, the first driver outside the cutoff.

That could be fine as long as Busch, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer or Ryan Blaney don’t win next weekend at Phoenix. If any of those four do, then Truex could be racing Kyle Busch for the final championship spot in Miami. Truex trails Kyle Busch by three points.

“Harvick or Kyle (Busch) winning is a perfect scenario – the guys that are ahead of you in points,” Truex said after Harvick’s win. “That was good. I feel okay about where we are. I think we need a little more speed to run with the Fords – they’re clearly really, really fast right now. If this is last year, they would all be complaining that we’re too fast so I don’t know if I should do a (Brad) Keselowski and start whining about it or not.

“They’re really fast and if we’re off just a little bit we can’t run with them. We were off a little bit today. On the short run, they were really fast, but on the long run I thought we were as good as anybody, but just never got to show it. Track position was so, so hard to get.”

Truex was running seventh when reported a loose wheel to crew chief Cole Pearn. Truex continued to run before the problem got worse and he came in to pit under green on Lap 248.

NASCAR penalized him for driving through more than three pit boxes.

“The sun was getting down and there were shadows everywhere and I just screwed up,” Truex said.

“Right when he did it, I said, well, we’re coming back (to pit road),” Pearn said.

Truex returned to pit road on Lap 250 to serve his pass-through penalty. He was two laps behind the leaders and running 26th after returning to the track. At that point, he led Kurt Busch by five points for the final transfer spot.

He got back on the lead lap when he got the free pass with the caution on Lap 298 and worked his way up to a top-10 finish. It marked the first time he’s finished between sixth and 10th this season. Before today, all 19 of his top-10 finishes had been top fives.

“I’m telling you, God is testing us,” Truex said of his day. “There’s no question. Had to start at the back, got to the front, hung around there for a while and then had a loose wheel there again. Just a tough day. Overall, a good day. Luckily we were able to get up front and get some stage points in the first two stages and then we had trouble, but we had it at least in time to recover.”