It may have been better for Martin Truex Jr. if Sunday’s NASCAR Cup race was the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 501.5.
Truex finished second to race winner Brad Keselowski but believed the outcome would have been different if there had been one more lap around the 1.54-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“Man, I could taste that one,” Truex said after the race. “I really wanted that first Atlanta win. The 17 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) rode there in front of us forever and ever, running the bottom. I kept telling him I needed the bottom, and these cars are just so bad in dirty air that he was holding me up really bad.
“Once I got around him, I got to the 2 (Keselowski) in two laps, so just needed one more (lap). Unfortunately, we had a great car and like I said, the guys did a great job. Just a little upset. We had the best car. We probably should have won that one.”
Truex led just four laps in the 325-lap event, while Keselowski led 33 laps. Kyle Larson, who led a race-high 142 laps, finished 12th.
And even though there were four Toyotas in the top 11 – with Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch finishing sixth, Erik Jones seventh and Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin 11th – that did not appease Truex, who once again singled out Stenhouse.
“Yeah, I’m a lot frustrated (by) lapped cars,” he said. “They just have no respect for the leaders running for the win. It’s completely uncalled for, ridiculous. It’s a shame.
“We lined up on that last restart behind all those guys that are a lap down and I know they were racing for the (free pass), which is all good, but once they got strung out, the 17 had a straightaway on me, and he just wouldn’t let me by.
“He just kept hugging the bottom, hugging the bottom, hugging the bottom and knew that’s where I needed to run. My spotter kept telling him we need the bottom.
“These cars punch such a big hole and it’s so bad in dirty air, it completely killed us for 25, 30 laps to the point my front tires were gone once I finally got by him.
“Hell, I still ran down the 2 (Keselowski) in two laps from half a straightaway. We clearly had the best car and were in position to win. Guys a lap down (Stenhouse finished 18th) have to have a little more respect than that.”