For much of Sunday afternoon, it appeared that Martin Truex Jr. was going to follow his Chase-opening victory at Chicagoland Speedway with another at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Truex was cruising along – he would eventually lead a race-high 141 of a possible 300 laps – before Kevin Harvick and some problems on restarts caught up with him for an eventual seventh-place finish in the Bad Boy Off Road 300.
“It was unfortunate to have a car that good all day long, then come home seventh,” he said.
Truex, of course, wasn’t under the same kind of pressure that Harvick – or any other driver in the Chase – was to win. He clinched his spot in the second round at Chicagoland, when he won for the second time in three races.
That didn’t mean the desire his No. 78 Toyota team felt to win at New Hampshire was any less than anybody else’s. He just had a different perspective. A victory at New Hampshire would have kept another driver from automatically qualifying, further amping up the stakes for the rest of the field at this weekend’s race at Dover, the third and final race of the first round.
“You just want to win, you know?” said Cole Pearn, Truex’s crew chief. “But it’s kind of fun that you can just go racing and don’t have the stress of it.”
Although Harvick was the eventual winner, Truex and Toyota teammate Matt Kenseth spent several laps racing each other hard for the lead. On two of the final three restarts after cautions, they shared the front row. That second time, however, was costly to Truex, who said he spun his tires and quickly dropped to fifth place. He lost two more places by the end of the race as Kenseth finished second behind Harvick.
“I just burned my rear tires off a bit and those restarts, I couldn’t get going,” Truex said. “I used my car up trying to get by (Kenseth) and it hurt me a lot on those restarts at the end.”
Truex and Kenseth stayed close to each other for several riveting laps. It was clean, hard racing between two drivers who compete for race teams (Kenseth’s Joe Gibbs Racing, Truex’s Furniture Row Racing) that have a technical alliance.
“I feel like I could have possibly pushed the issue a little bit more,” said Truex. “I just didn’t want to risk contact, getting into him and taking him out of the race. I know he’s got a lot on the line. We’ve got our win, so that played into that decision. He’s a teammate, too.
“It would be an awkward meeting on Tuesday if I knocked him out of the way to win my second race of the first round.”