SPARTA, Ky. – No. 56 NAPA Good to Go Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. finished 18th in Saturday's inaugural NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway. Truex battled handling issues early in the race, but a blistering pace set by leader Kyle Busch saw half the field including Truex a lap down by the halfway mark. Truex returned to the lead lap 20 laps later and then used a late-race caution to climb as high as 11th. Truex battled handling issues in the final laps to finish 18th.
"It was a battle tonight," said Truex who started 16th. "The track was slick and the feel of our car just wouldn't allow us to go. A lot of drivers, including myself, are scratching our heads right now trying to figure out what we missed. Yesterday, our handling didn't feel good, but we were fast. Today, that wasn't the case. We have some more work to do but we are making progress. I'm real happy for David and the TUMS team for getting the runner-up finish."
During the pace laps, Truex told his NAPA KNOW HOW team he was "good to go" for the 400-miler. When the race got up to speed, the NAPA driver raced in 20th after being bogged down in the slower line after Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman made contact. Truex patiently waited it out as his car lacked grip.
The chance to fine tune the No. 56 happened when NASCAR threw a mandatory caution on lap 30. Crew chief Chad Johnston ordered a two-tire stop with wedge and air pressure changes. Truex returned to the track in 16th position for the restart on lap 36.
Just three laps into the next green-flag sequence, Truex reported a tight condition through the corners. Johnston told his driver to hold on as he ran in 20th. Johnston planned for a four-tire stop with more wedge and air pressure adjustments to help his driver. The chance to pit happened under green on lap 78.
Truex informed the team that his No. 56 NAPA Good to Go Toyota ran better. It still handled tight, but it was faster with times in line with the frontrunners. Johnston focused on implementing a plan to help Truex gain the valuable track position needed in order to contend.
The next chance to pit happened on lap 119. A lug nut fell off slowing the NAPA team's stop, but the crew put it back on to avoid a penalty. After the pit sequence concluded, the No. 56 Good to Go Toyota ran in 24th position, one lap down. Truex told his team his car was better and needed more.
The race slowed on lap 140 for debris. The NAPA team opted to stay out along with eight other cars to take the wave around and return onto the lead lap. The race restarted on lap 147 with Truex in 24th position. The strategy paid off as Truex remained on the lead lap when the caution flag waved on lap 152 for oil on the track.
The caution allowed the NAPA Good to Go Toyota to visit pit road on lap 153 for four tires and an air pressure change. The No. 56 returned to the track in 21st with plenty of laps remaining for the driver to turn his race around. When the race went green on lap 158, Truex went three wide with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Ryan Newman. The NAPA driver raced just outside the top 20 during most of the green flag, but picked up spots when teams started to pit on lap 192. Truex radioed in to report his car ran well during the middle of the run but needed help in the start and end of a long run.
Another chance to work on the No. 56 NAPA Good to Go Toyota happened under caution on lap 201 after Truex lead a lap for a valuable bonus point. Johnston ordered the NAPA KNOW HOW pit crew to bolt on four fresh tires and add fuel. Truex restarted in 11th as Johnston encouraged his driver to keep doing what he was doing as his lap times before the caution were in top 10.
The race returned to green on lap 210. Several laps into the run, Truex said his car plowed. The condition dropped him to 14th position. As the laps ticked away, his NAPA Good to Go Toyota picked up the pace despite running tight through the turns. With 25 laps to go, he raced in eighth position with one final stop needed to make it to the end of the Kentucky Speedway 400.
The team's final green-flag stop for fuel only happened on lap 251. Then two circuits later, the caution flag flew after Dale Earnhardt Jr. blew a left tire. Truex's teammate David Reutimann was the only driver who had not visited pit road at the time of the yellow. Several teams pitted for fresh tires while the rest of the field, including Truex, remained out onto the track.
The caution set up an eight-lap shootout with Truex scored in 15th. Unfortunately, the race slowed again on lap 262 for a Clint Bowyer spin. The NAPA Toyota dove onto pit road for fresh tires on lap 263.
The green flag waved one final time on lap 265 of 267 with Truex in 19th place. The NAPA Toyota picked up one more spot before the checkered flag waved to finish in 18th place.
Kyle Busch held off MWR's David Reutimann for the race win. Rounding out the top-10 finishers were Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, David Ragan, Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon.
Next Sunday Truex and the NAPA KNOW HOW crew race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.