SONOMA, Calif. – No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. finished eighth in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup road-course race at Infineon Raceway. The Michael Waltrip Racing driver started 14th and battled an extremely loose car in the early stages of the 110-lap event before showing he was one of the fastest cars on the track climbing as high as second. On lap 42, A.J. Allmendinger and Denny Hamlin made contact forcing Hamlin into Truex who fell to 36th after the spin. Truex rallied to race eighth by the halfway mark and battled inside the top five during the second half of the race. A late-race restart saw Truex lose some spots after sliding into the dirt, but he held on for the eighth-place finish.
"We had a great NAPA Toyota," said Truex after climbing out of the car. "It was fast. We just got spun out once. Then, we got on the right pit strategy. At the end, we were just out of tires. I was really good for 25 laps or so on tires, and then if we got a caution and I got a heat cycle on them, I was really loose. I was really loose all day, but the heat cycle would really make it bad. At the end there, those last five laps, I just couldn't go because the rear tires had smoke coming off them. I just couldn't get any rear traction. We lost four spots the last few laps. It was still a good day for us. We had a fast car. Everything held up. The brakes were great all day. The transmission, the engine - all that stuff was good. I just wish we could have got a little bit more there. We thought for a while there, we were going to have a shot for the win. I just ran the tires off it."
The opening laps saw Truex battle an extremely loose condition. It caused the No. 56 to lose some positions during on the first 10 circuits, but he gradually regained the track position and returned to his starting spot by lap 17. Crew Chief Chad Johnston called Truex onto pit road under green-flag conditions as planned on lap 25 in second position. The NAPA KNOW HOW pit crew changed four tires and made an air pressure change.
Truex returned to the race and told his crew chief he liked the second set of tires better. The yellow flag waved on laps 32 and 37. Johnston kept his driver out on the track to take both restarts in third position behind leader Kurt Busch.
The green flag waved on lap 42 and Truex showed some steam by taking over the second position. But just one circuit later, the No. 11 and 43 cars made contact causing Hamlin to spin out Truex. Johnston ordered the No. 56 to pit road for four fresh tires on lap 43. The NAPA Toyota returned to the track in 36th position.
The yellow flag came out on lap 47 for debris. The No. 56 regained some valuable track position to take the green flag on lap 50 in 14th. Three laps later, Truex raced up to eighth place. Meanwhile a collision involving JTG Daugherty Racing teammate Bobby Labonte brought out a caution on lap 60. Johnston kept the No. 56 out on the track to take the green flag on lap 64 in fourth place. Less than 10 laps into the run, Truex radioed in for more forward bite as he felt confident he could contend for the win. The chance to fine tune the NAPA Toyota came under green on lap 73 while racing in second place. The NAPA KNOW HOW crew made an air pressure adjustment, added gas and bolted on four fresh Goodyear tires.
The final 35 laps saw Truex pick his way through the field as the rest of the teams started to make their final green-flag stops. The No. 56 made it up to third and within striking distance of Kurt Busch when the caution flag flew on lap 88 for a wreck involving Tony Stewart. Kevin Harvick relinquished the top spot as he needed fuel.
The stage was set for Busch and Truex to take the restart in first and second. With 19 laps to go, the green flag waved and by the time they circled back, Truex got into the dirt to lose four spots. The NAPA driver regrouped to cross the finish line in eighth place.
Kurt Busch beat out Calif.-native Jeff Gordon for the win. Rounding out the top-10 finishers were Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Marcos Ambrose, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Truex, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski.
Truex celebrates his 31st birthday on Wednesday before competing in Saturday's restrictor-plate race at Daytona International Speedway.