After two of the three races in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Round of 16, how are your Playoff Grids looking?
I doubt very highly many, if any, predicted that regular-season point champion Martin Truex Jr. would be bounced from the Playoffs in the Round of 16. However, as the series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway for the Bass Pro Shops Night Race, the driver of the No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing could realistically fail to advance in the Playoffs.
Heading into the cutoff race, Truex sits seven points below the Playoff cutline. Life comes at you fast in the NASCAR Cup Series these days.
Truex, who won three races in the regular season, and was tied with William Byron for the point lead when the Round of 16 began, had an atrocious showing in the opening race of the round — the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
The No. 19 car was ill-handling all race long and found himself a lap down late in the event. A late-race free pass got Truex back on the lead lap, and he was able to salvage an 18th-place finish on the night. But it was a horrible statement to make for a team that looked so rock-steady heading into the Playoffs.
After the race at Darlington, the usually accommodating Truex was in no mood to speak to the media about his race, as he stormed off of pit road after climbing from his car.
This past weekend at Kansas Speedway, the team brought a lot more speed to the race track than at Darlington. However, after qualifying third, they weren’t able to show it for long in the race.
On the initial start of the race, Truex radioed to his team that something was off with his car, as it felt ultra-tight. He would begin to drop like a rock through the running order, and by Lap 4, Truex’s race was over.
“Just really unfortunate. Very unlucky,” Truex said of the tire failure. “It took off really tight, I knew something was up, and then blew a right rear. So, not really sure what happened. Obviously, it blew in the worst place possible. I hate it for my guys. We had an awesome racecar, we were going to have a really good day.”
Would haves and could haves don’t advance you through the Playoffs. You have to perform, and quite simply the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team has had a combination of bad luck (Kansas) and poor performance (Darlington), which has them on the cusp of Playoff elimination.
And things don’t get any easier for Truex, as his championship hopes rest on a solid performance at arguably one of his worst tracks on the schedule — Bristol.
In 32-career starts at The World’s Fastest Half-Mile, Truex has just two top-five finishes, and four top-10. His career average finish at the high-banked concrete short track is a paltry 20.8.
In the Night Race a season ago, Truex qualified 22nd, but only completed 198 of the 500 laps, and dropped out to finish 36th after a steering rack issue. Fortunately for Truex, steering rack issues haven’t been prevalent with the Next Gen car this season, but he’s going to have to put in a truly clutch performance at one of his worst tracks if he wants to continue to chase his second NASCAR Cup Series title.
Which just sounds so wrong, when you factor in how the point standings looked two weeks ago.