It began with a vibration somewhere in the engine of Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Toyota. Seconds later, his hopes for winning NASCAR’s Cup championship were gone.
“Damn,” Truex thought to himself as smoke streamed from the hood of his car after the engine let go. “It hurts to go out like this.”
So it went for Truex and Brad Keselowski, two contenders for the Chase championship who needed something special to happen in Sunday’s Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega Superspeedway if they were to advance to the third round, which will begin next Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
It was an unexpected end to the postseason for Truex. He dominated the first round, winning races at Chicagoland and Dover to automatically advance into the second round.
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Although Truex underperformed at Charlotte (13th) and Kansas (11th) in the first two races of the second round, he was still in sixth place – and inside the Chase cut line – for Talladega’s elimination race.
I knew we were in trouble and I was just hoping for a miracle.
Martin Truex Jr.
“It’s been a roller coaster, that’s for sure,” Truex said of his season, which includes two other victories (Charlotte’s Coca-Cola 600 in May and the Southern 500 at Darlington) before the Chase began. “I wish we could have done a better job at Kansas and Charlotte and maybe had a free pass coming (to Talladega). That certainly would have been big, knowing the circumstances.”
If Truex wasn’t going to win at Talladega, all he needed was a strong points finish to potentially advance.
But that all fell apart on Lap 40, when Truex first felt a vibration after coming out from a green-flag pit stop.
Truex made the final four of last season’s Chase at Homestead-Miami Speedway and has won four races this season.
“It started in the motor and just got worse, then started to lose a little bit of power,” Truex said. “I knew we were in trouble and I was just hoping for a miracle.”
He called it a “catastrophic engine failure,” and said his crew discovered a large hole in the oil pan after the car came to the garage. The problem came one day after NASCAR confiscated a front jack screw before qualifying. Truex’s team probably won’t be penalized for the infraction, NASCAR senior vice president of competition Scott Miller said.
“We could have raced all day, got in a big wreck and still not made it,” Truex said. “There’s no telling. But it would have been nice to at least find out and at least play the whole game and see what happened.”
40 Truex’s finish in Sunday’s race (last)
So, one season removed from his appearance in the Chase’s final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Truex will race for victories – and victories alone – the rest of the way.
“It will be real hard when we win the next four races,” Truex said.
Keselowski, who was in 11th place in the standings entering the race, led a race-high 90 laps before his engine let go on Lap 144. Keselowski, who also has four victories this season, has the same philosophy as Truex.
“We just had a tremendous race going, but it wasn’t meant to be,” said Keselowski. “(We want to) win more races.”