DARLINGTON, S.C. – Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota team looked like they were in position to collect a $250,000 paycheck for Truex’s charity foundation as he battled Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick in the DirecTV Head2Head competition Saturday night at Darlington Raceway. After an early race crash, the NAPA Know How crew battled back and appeared poised for a top-10 finish. But Truex reported the car stuck in second gear on a lap 232 restart that saw him lose a lap. He battled back, but couldn’t get the caution that would allow him to return to the lead lap and challenge the leaders. Truex ended the race in 19th which allowed him to move up one position in the championship points standings.
“This certainly wasn't the finish we deserved,” said Truex who started the race in 33rd position. “This is tough. To see my team work the way they did after we were wrecked was amazing. Our toe was knocked out and they were so cool under pressure on pit road. They got me back out there and my car was fast. We had a contender that’s for sure and that’s what makes this whole deal hard. Then to get stuck in second gear and lose the clutch was another bad deal. We desperately needed a caution to get back on the lead lap. If it would have happened, we were in the money. Our car had the speed. We just needed a break. If we keep bringing cars this fast, it will eventually go our way. It ended up being a tough, tough, night.”
For a track known to be difficult to pass on, Truex made it look easy. By the time the first caution waved, Truex had raced up to 22nd position. His only complaint was his NAPA Toyota was loose into Turn 3. Crew chief Pat Tryson brought his driver onto pit road for a track bar change, four fresh tires and fuel.
A tense moment occurred for the NAPA team when Greg Biffle lost control of his car in front of the No. 56 Toyota. Truex took evasive action but was struck by Jimmie Johnson and then hit the Turn 4 wall. The NAPA Toyota sustained damaged to the front end and right side of the car. The biggest challenge for the driver was the toe was knocked out. The crew went to work in the pits on laps 84 and 85. When the race went back to green, Tony Stewart was the leader and Truex was relegated back to 35th position.
What happened next was impressive. Over the course of a green-flag run that lasted for 58 laps, the 29-year-old driver raced his way up to 13th position and was running lap times equal to the leader Denny Hamlin. Instead of doing more work on the car’s toe, Tryson opted for a stop under green on lap 145 that consisted of another track bar change to tighten up the car. Since the NAPA Toyota was fast, the team felt the toe issue should be left alone. When the service was completed, Truex was back on track and on the verge of breaking into the top 10.
Robby Gordon brought out the next caution on lap 171. Truex said he was free off of four, but really good on the long run. This time, Tryson chose a two-tire stop to get a gauge as to how that strategy would work for his Toyota. The NAPA Know How crew busted off a fast stop that enabled the team to go from 11th to seventh on the restart.
By the 200-lap mark, the NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota remained one of the fastest cars on the track despite being battered and bruised. While running in fifth position, he radioed in to tell his team that in a couple laps, he was going to the front. He was right. On lap 216, he was in fourth and within striking distance of the leader Jeff Gordon.
The team suffered a major blow on the restart at lap 232. That’s when his car would not shift out of second gear. It caused NASCAR to throw a caution as the field started to bunch up. Truex was able to come onto pit road putting the NAPA Know How crew into action. The crew was able to get the car out of second gear, but as Truex went to leave his pit, the team discovered his clutch was no longer working. Truex tried feverishly to get the car restarted and when it did power back up, the pace car passed him on pit road. The NAPA team was put one lap down.
For the remainder of the race, Truex was in desperate need of a caution as he continued to be one of the fastest cars on the track. Despite being in contention for the Lucky Dog pass, a caution would never come to fruition to his benefit. He was relegated to a 19th-place result.
Martin Truex, Jr., No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota
David Reutimann Race Summary: It was another strong performance for David Reutimann and the No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Saturday night at Darlington Raceway. Reutimann finished 11th jumping three spots to 24th in the point standings after the 500-mile race. Reutimann ran in the top five early in the race and led three laps near the midway point. The finish could have been even better were it not for some bad luck in the closing laps. The race’s final caution fell as Reutimann pitted dropping him from seventh to 15th as he managed to stay on the lead lap. He gained four spots in the closing laps.
David Reutimann, No. 00 TUMS Toyota
“It was just a struggle. We were loose the whole race and just couldn't get on the other side of it. We made it better, but the track changes as it goes and we couldn't keep up with it. We didn't get it where it needed to be. We got it good towards the end and then we pit and the yellow comes out. That's the way our season has gone. I mean it happens-we go from top five to outside the top fifteen. Then you have got to battle back there...we just weren't as good as we needed to be because we kept trying to make the car tighter and tighter and we were getting better, but we just ran out of time to at least get back in the top 10.” David Reutimann