AVONDALE, Ariz. – No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. fought a tight-handling car and an untimely caution flag to finish 20th in Sunday's 500-kilometer NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway. The Michael Waltrip Racing driver started fifth and moved to second before lap three. Over the course of the 312-lap event, Truex never raced outside the top-11 until a caution flag waved during the team's pit stop on lap 159 costing him a lap to the leaders. Truex raced back onto the lead lap thanks to a wave around and focused on climbing back into the top 10 in the closing laps. But, handling issues at the end of the race left Truex with the 20th-place finish.
"We ended up right where we started after we got caught on pit road -- 20th," said Truex. "I don't know what happened to our car after that. We started off fast there at the end, but it went away so fast. I thought we had a chance there at the beginning of the race, but for some reason, we couldn't get the NAPA Toyota to respond like we needed it to after we took the wave around. One more race to go, and it is at a track I really like so I'm looking forward to Homestead that's for sure. We led a lot of laps there last year, and I am looking to pick up where we left off and hopefully end the season with a much-deserve win for NAPA and the entire MWR organization."
As soon as the green flag waved, Truex made his move by climbing into second place by circuit two. The only thing that kept the NAPA Toyota from the lead was caution flags. Once the race settled in, Truex competed in third as his No. 56 Toyota drove tight into Turn 1 and tight off of Turn 4.
The NAPA Know How pit crew went to work during the competition yellow on lap 42 by changing left side tires and making a wedge adjustment. Truex returned to the track in fifth position.
During the following green-flag run, Truex battled a tight in center condition. He competed in sixth position for most of the sequence. He only lost two spots at the end of the run to cars with four fresh tires versus Truex's two tires.
Meanwhile, the chance to fine tune the NAPA Toyota came under caution on lap 94. Wedge, air pressure, fuel and four tires completed the stop. Truex lined up seventh on the restart on lap 97. Then by halfway, the tight condition remained with Turn 1 being the biggest challenge. Truex drove in eighth position before pitting on lap 157 for wedge and air pressure changes. Unfortunately while on pit road, NASCAR threw the caution flag. It put the NAPA team one lap down so interim crew chief Scott Miller kept the driver out in favor of the wave around to race back onto the lead lap. It worked as a caution flag dropped on lap 168. Truex restarted up 20th.
The team's fourth stop of the race happened under caution on lap 178. Four tires and fuel completed the service. The NAPA Toyota restarted 20th and the driver went back to work in an effort to regain spots lost earlier due to the caution. By lap 190, the scoring pylon showed Truex in 14th place.
Another pit stop took place under caution on lap 221 for air pressure and wedge adjustments. Truex restarted 16th and shortly into the run, the driver complained about an extremely tight-handling condition. It cost the driver three positions on the track to race in 19th.
The NAPA team took one final swing at the No. 56 Toyota in hopes of putting it back into competitive form. Miller added track bar to the mix. The adjustments brought the NAPA Toyota back to life early into the run, but it still remained a handful for Truex resulting in 20th place.
Next week the NAPA Racing team competes in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.