JOLIET, IL – No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. finished 18th in Monday's rain-delayed NASCAR Sprint Cup race from Chicagoland Speedway. Truex ran in the top six, leading 14 laps in the second half of the 400-mile race. The Michael Waltrip Racing driver took the lead with 15 laps to go but had to give up the lead on the next lap to make a fuel stop. Eventual winner Tony Stewart and several race leaders stretched their fuel mileage on the final run with most making it to the end. Truex has now led 143 laps in 2011.
"Chad really did a great job adjusting on our NAPA Toyota," said Truex. "We had a top-five car there at the end, but just didn't have the fuel mileage to gamble like the other teams did. We had to pit because we did not feel confident enough that we could save enough fuel to make it. I wish we had some better luck, but it is what it is. We've been struggling on the 1.5-mile tracks and to run and lead laps like we did says a lot about how hard we are working to improve our program. We ran strong in the second half today and that's all I can ask for. We continue to improve and that's a good thing at this point in our season."
Shortly after noon on Monday, Truex and the NAPA AUTO PARTS team took to the 1.5-mile tri-oval. The early stages saw the NAPA driver battle a tight condition through the corners and needed more front grip. Despite the challenge, he remained solidly in the top 20 going door-to-door with the Jeffs – Gordon and Burton.
The first chance to pit happened under a competition yellow on lap 33. The NAPA Toyota ran in 19th. Crew chief Chad Johnston ordered up an air pressure change along with four fresh tires and fuel. The NAPA Toyota returned to the track in 20th place as two teams took just two tires.
The race returned to green on lap 36. On lap 44, Truex went sideways through Turn 4 to lose several positions on the track. Once he settled back into 27th position, he focused on climbing back into the top 25. Shortly after the 50-lap mark, Truex informed Johnston that he still needed more front grip. He tried several different grooves throughout the run to improve his pace to pick up three spots to run in 24th position.
Then on lap 72, NASCAR threw a debris caution. It enabled Johnston another chance to improve the NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota. This time he ordered up packer and wedge adjustments. Truex lined up 27th on the restart at circuit 75 and just one lap into the run, he gained five spots on the track. Not long after, he radioed in and said the NAPA Toyota was better all the way around. He was right. Truex drove up to 16th by lap 110.
The team's first green-flag stop occurred on lap 118 for air pressure along with four fresh tires and fuel. Truex returned to the track in 13th position and ready to contend for the top 10. By halfway, Johnston informed his driver that he had the fastest car on the track.
A debris caution came out on lap 146. The NAPA Toyota visited pit road for four tires and fuel. The fast stop completed by the NAPA Know How crew placed Truex in 11th position on the restart. The NAPA driver got a good restart to break into the top 10. Then on lap 165 while racing in ninth, the caution came out for Jamie McMurray who lost an engine. Truex's only complaint was the car remained little tight through the corners. So on lap 166, the NAPA Toyota came in for two tires. The quick service kept Truex in the top 10 while Brad Keselowski chose not to pit and earn the top spot.
With 99 laps to go, the race returned to green. The NAPA Toyota went three wide against Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards. At first, he was the beneficiary, but soon Truex reported his car was simply too tight to maintain a top-10 spot. Then four laps later, the NAPA driver said his car was coming to him and raced back up to 10th place.
A debris caution allowed Truex to pit on lap 206. The driver believed the tight condition was due to the two-tire change. With that in mind, Johnston put into motion wedge and air pressure changes during the four-tire service. Another fast stop by the NAPA Know How pit crew gained Truex two positions on the track to take the green in seventh place.
The sixth yellow flag of the day waved on lap 214. Truex opted to stay and lead while all of the front runners pitted for fuel only. Johnston informed his driver that it made no sense for the NAPA team to pit as they were not in their fuel window. So with 50 laps to go, Truex led the field to the green flag and maintained the top spot for nine laps.
Fuel mileage was soon the hot topic on pit road. Most of the frontrunners reported being two to three laps short if the race remained green. Truex never fell below fourth and soon charged back up to second with 20 to go as cars started to slow to conserve fuel. Then with 17 laps to go, the NAPA Toyota climbed back into the top spot before dropping onto pit road on lap 253 for a splash of fuel and two tires.
Meanwhile, Tony Stewart and most of the teams who gambled on gas made it to the end on fumes forcing Truex to settle for 18th place.
Truex and the NAPA AUTO PARTS team remain 17th in the championship standings - 39 points out of 13th place. The No. 56 returns to action next Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.