Ricky Stenhouse Jr. countered Martin Truex Jr.’s claims that Stenhouse, running a lap behind the leaders, held Truex up late in last weekend’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Stenhouse told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Wednesday that he was “confused” by Truex’s assertion and wondered if Truex thought that “lapped cars have dirtier air coming off the car (than those on the lead lap).”
Truex was upset with Stenhouse after the race, saying Stenhouse should have gotten out of the way sooner.
“(Stenhouse) rode there in front of us forever and ever, running the bottom,” Truex said after the race. “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.”
Of lapped cars, Truex said: “They just have no respect for the leaders running for the win. It’s completely uncalled for, ridiculous. It’s a shame.”
Stenhouse didn’t see things that way, telling Claire B. Lang on “Dialed In” on Wednesday:
“To me I didn’t feel like we really held him off. If he was that fast, then he could have closed up to us. If leaders get within five car lengths of me, I let them go. Mike Herman Jr., my spotter, was updating me how far back (Truex) was. We were racing to try to get back on the lead lap.
“I felt like there at a moment we were going to be able to catch (Brad Keselowski, who led the final 33 laps to win). We were running faster lap times than he was. So, we were thinking, ‘hey, let’s just old school get our lap back (by passing the leader) and see how it falls.’
“But also (Keselowski) was catching (Chase Elliott) and was going to put him a lap down, and we wanted to make sure that if (Elliott) got lapped that we could get by him as quick as possible in case the caution came out and we could get the lucky dog that way as well.
“The way I see it, if Truex is fast enough and that much faster than me, then he could have caught us. If he would have caught us and got to within five car lengths, I would have let him go. He didn’t have any problem getting within five car lengths of (Keselowski).
“He talks about dirty air and things like that. I don’t know if he thinks that lapped cars have dirtier air coming off the car. Kind of confused me. Brad Keselowski, he restarted behind me, actually nose to tail with Truex and he passed us on the outside.
“Generally, when I have a faster car, I just drive around the lapped cars that I’m lapping. It’s one of those things that I felt like me and my spotter and our team did the right thing for what we had going on.
“Once I slipped up a little bit, Truex closed within five car lengths and I pulled almost on the apron on the back straightaway to give him whatever lane he wanted and slowed up for him. That’s the way I play it. When the leaders get to me, I give them a lane one way or the other when they get close, but he wasn’t close enough to just give up our whole lap or the positions I was racing for either.”
Issues began when there was a caution during a green-flag pit cycle for Ryan Preece running into the back of B.J. McLeod’s car on pit road. McLeod’s car spun, injuring a member of Chris Buescher’s pit crew.
Joey Logano and Kurt Busch were the only cars on the lead lap that hadn’t pitted. They restarted on the front row. Per the NASCAR Rule Book, cars one or more laps down restart next.
That put Stenhouse, a lap down, inside of the second row with Jimmie Johnson to his outside. The third row had Bubba Wallace on the inside and Ty Dillon. Both were two laps down.
Keselowski, who received the free pass, was positioned on the inside of the fourth row for the restart, ahead of cars that had pitted and did the wave around. Truex restarted on the inside of the fifth row, directly behind Keselowski.
Keselowski maneuvered by the four lapped cars ahead of him quickly after the restart. Truex did not.