For the third time in the past four years, Martin Truex Jr. will be going to NASCAR’s Big Dance at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Truex, the defending NASCAR Cup Series champion, earned a spot in the Championship 4 with a conservative 14th-place finish in Sunday’s penultimate race at ISM Raceway near Phoenix. He had a comfortable 42-point margin above the cutline.
“We didn’t want to do anything crazy there at the end, we knew what we had to do and we accomplished the mission,” Truex said.
Truex will be joined in the Championship 4 by Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Joey Logano. The Championship 4 driver with the best finish at Homestead will be crowned the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion.
Truex, who qualified 13th at the 1-mile Arizona oval in his No. 78 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota, struggled early in the race. He was shut out for points in the first stage. But a timely caution in the second stage helped the Furniture Row Racing driver to finish third and pick up eight standing points.
“We didn’t have the greatest car, but we just battled hard and had a little bit of good fortune,” noted Truex, who led twice for eight laps. “Cole (Pearn, crew chief) made good calls. He and the guys are just an unbelievable group.
“Short runs really killed us today. We couldn’t run good for 40 or 50 laps and when my car started to come in, a caution would come out. All in all proud of everybody – the guys back at the Denver shop for continuing to bring good cars to the track. We had 1300 names from Auto-Owners – people who got together to help raise money for our foundation. That and Veterans Day so many cool things about today. We’re going to Miami – one last hurrah next week and we’ll give it all we got.”
Regarding next Sunday’s race at Homestead Truex went on to say, “Homestead is a tough track, it’s a long race and anything can happen. We saw last year that we were really good on short runs and the 18 (Kyle Busch) was good on long runs, and at the end, it came down to a short run and we were able to hold him off.
“You have to have a little bit of luck on your side, have a good race car and have things play out the way you need them to suit your setup and suit what you’re doing. For us, we’ve got a lot of confidence and we really don’t have a lot of pressure on us. We haven’t been the fastest car this year by any means, but when we hit it right we can beat anybody. If we can go down there and hit it right, we’re going to have some fun.”
The race winner was Kyle Busch. Rounding out the top 10 were: Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth, Austin Dillon, William Byron and Bubba Wallace.
The race had 10 cautions for 61 laps and two red flags for nearly 16 minutes. There were 17 lead changes among nine drivers.