Martin Truex Jr. and his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing crew chief, Cole Pearn, gambled and lost late in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
But after holding on for fourth on older tires than virtually everyone else who finished around him, Truex did not feel or act as if he was a huge loser.
On what turned out to be the next-to-last caution of the day, Truex and only two other drivers stayed out while the rest of the field, including eventual race winner Kyle Larson, pitted for fresh tires – which are critical at the 2-mile track. The other drivers who stayed out were Denny Hamlin, who led the field to green on the ensuing restart but ended up finishing 14th; and Jamie McMurray, who restarted second on that occasion and ended up sixth.
Larson was in fourth on that restart, but quickly assumed the lead and held it the rest of the way, including on one more restart.
“It was definitely not the situation we wanted to be in, but we thought more guys would stay out there,” Truex said. “I think we only ran a few laps (on those particular tires). It was definitely a disadvantage at the end and (the car was) just really tight. Holding on for fourth was good for points.”
With one win at Las Vegas already in the books for Truex, guaranteeing him a spot in this year’s playoffs, he could afford to make Sunday’s gamble.
His car was among the fastest in the field again, as it has been all year. His worst finish is 13th at the season-opening Daytona 500, and he now has two top-five and three top-10 finishes in the first five Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races.
“All in all, it was a good day,” said Truex, who won Stage 2 of the three-stage race and led 73 laps, second only to the 110 Larson led. “We ran up front and led laps. The 42 (of Larson) and I felt like we were the class of the field. He just got it done and we didn’t.”
In other words, in the final analysis, Truex said he and his team had nothing to hang their heads about.
“We were right there all day long. … Toward the end we had a little trouble in the pits,” added Truex, referring to one late pit stop where he drove in a little deep into his stall, resulting in a 14.1-second stop that cost him five spots. “Then we didn’t take tires, everybody else did and we were at a big disadvantage those last couple restarts.
“I’m definitely happy to come out of here with a fourth with the tires we had on the car at the end. It was a good day and we have fast cars and we’ll continue to work on them.”