RICHMOND, Va. - Martin Truex, Jr. cradled the trophy he earned as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular-season champion, but his mind was elsewhere.
Truex was still bitter about the chain of circumstances that deprived him of a likely victory in Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 and ended his night with a crash into the turn 1 wall.
Truex was leading by more than two seconds when the No. 15 Chevrolet of Derrike Cope scraped the outside wall on lap 397 of a scheduled 400, causing the sixth and final caution of the night.
Truex led the field to pit road but came out second behind Kyle Larson, and after Larson took the lead on an overtime restart on lap 403, Truex slammed into the turn 1 wall on the final lap after contact from Denny Hamlin’s Toyota.
Truex didn’t mince words.
“The final caution, I really don’t know what it was for,” he said. “I haven’t seen it. I just know it was the 15 car, who was 20 some laps down (actually 16). I don’t even think he makes minimum speed, and really doesn’t even belong out there. I don’t know if he apparently scraped the wall a few times, and I don’t know, couldn’t stay in the race track as slow as he was going.”
No wonder the regular-season trophy presentation was bittersweet for Truex, who locked up the title last Sunday at Darlington.
“I wish they’d given me the trophy last week,” Truex said.
Erik Jones Misses Chance To Steal A Win On Final Restart
The late caution that proved costly to Martin Truex, Jr. could have been a boon to Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Erik Jones, whose only path to the playoff was a victory at Richmond.
After pitting for tires under the final caution, Jones lined up fifth for an overtime restart on lap 403, but his hopes for an upset evaporated when he missed a shift as the green flag waved.
“Well, I was hoping we’d try to make it three wide and make something happen, you know?” Jones said. “We were just going to have to bully our way to the front, and unfortunately we just didn’t get the chance. I just missed third gear and messed up. I mean, I don’t know if I’ve ever missed a shift before.
“It’s just really disappointing. I really hate it for my guys and hate that we didn’t at least get a shot at it. Would have loved to go after it, but the SiriusXM Camry was good all night. We were a top-five car all night. We just didn’t quite find that last little bit of speed we needed, but had the restart we wanted – had the shot we wanted – just didn’t work out.”
Matt Kenseth Sweats Out Final Stage After Falling Out
A freak accident on lap 255 of Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 put playoff contender Matt Kenseth on the sidelines. Kenseth was approaching pit road and had to avoid an ambulance stopped near the entrance.
NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller later said the ambulance failed to follow instructions from the control tower.
The driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was the victim of a chain reaction collision that caved in the nose of his Camry and broke the radiator. Kenseth fell out of the race in 38th place and had to wait until the finish to make sure another unique winner didn’t take the checkered flag and deprive him of a playoff berth.
As it turned out, Kyle Larson won the race and preserved Kenseth’s place in the postseason.
“Well, we were all just kind of coming to pit road, and I saw an ambulance sitting there and so I looked left of the ambulance at the same time (spotter Jason) Hedlesky yelled at everyone to stop, that there was an ambulance just sitting there.
“It was an accordion effect, and I just couldn’t get stopped. Not really sure why pit road was open with an ambulance parked there, but everybody stopped, and I didn’t see it in time and ran into the car in front of me.”
Fortunately for Kenseth, the bizarre accident didn’t cost him a chance to race for a championship in his final season in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.