Martin Truex Jr. Was the Biggest Loser at Michigan, but Still Has a Pair of Great Chances to Qualify for the NASCAR Playoffs
Martin Truex Jr. lost more than any other driver when Kevin Harvick knocked him from the NASCAR Playoffs with a win Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, but Truex still has at least two excellent chances to rebound before the postseason field is set.
Truex finished sixth at Michigan, which was good enough to maintain his fourth-place spot in the overall points standings, but he was one of two drivers, along with Ryan Blaney, who were in a playoff spot prior to the Michigan race but was vulnerable because he did not have the protection of a win yet this season.
Overall, Martin Truex Jr. has had a good regular season
Truex began the 2022 campaign with four top-10 finishes in the first six races and has had only three finishes worse than 22nd through the first 23 events on the schedule. His 13.2 average finishing position is second among all Cup Series drivers, and his 455 laps led ranks fifth.
He is having a season worthy of one of the 16 available playoff spots by almost every measure, except the one that matters. He is still winless on the year, so he currently sits 17th in the playoff standings, 19 points behind Blaney for the final spot.
Truex could theoretically best Blaney by 20 points and still claim the final playoff spot with his point total, but that assumes a 16th winner on the season doesn’t emerge in the final three regular-season races. That would fill the entire 16-driver playoff grid with race winners for the first time since NASCAR adopted its current playoff format in 2014.
If that scenario happens, the points battle between Truex and Blaney would be moot. Each driver would have to win his way into the playoffs before the regular season ends.
The remaining regular-season schedule sets up well for Truex
Fortunately for Truex, two of his best tracks are the next two on the schedule.
The Cup Series heads to Richmond International Raceway this weekend for the second race of the season on the 0.75-mile short track. Truex led 80 laps in the spring race at Richmond and finished fourth after pit strategy went against him and William Byron when Denny Hamlin and Harvick passed them in the final 10 laps.
Still, Truex has won a series-high three times with an incredible 2.3 average finishing position at Richmond since the start of 2019 and has a series-most six wins on short tracks in that same span. For what it’s worth, Harvick had similar numbers at Michigan leading into his victory Sunday.
Even if Truex is unable to add to those totals this weekend, the road course of Watkins Glen International in upstate New York is up next.
Truex has finished third or better, including a win in 2017, each of the last four times the Cup Series has visited Watkins Glen. His 2.5 average finishing position is second to only Chase Elliott in that stretch, and Truex has posted a top-five finish seven times in 15 starts at the facility. His four career road-course victories, overall, are tied for the second most among all active drivers.
Joe Gibbs Racing has struggled on road courses this season
One of the few factors against Truex at Watkins Glen is the poor performance of Joe Gibbs Racing cars on road courses this season. It has been a glaring weakness for the organization this season, and no JGR driver has finished better than 11th in the last three road-course events.
Truex himself finished seventh in the first road-course race of the year when the series visited the Circuit of the Americas in Austin. He has since been unable to finish higher than 13th in the following three road-course races.
Watkins Glen is still a better opportunity than the regular-season finale on August 27 at Daytona. Superspeedway races are often crapshoots, and Truex has not had much success at the sport’s most famous race track.
He ran runner-up to Hamlin in a dramatic photo finish in the 2016 Daytona 500 but otherwise has only two other top-five finishes in 33 career races at the World Center of Racing. His 21.9 average finishing position at Daytona is his third-lowest behind only Nashville Superspeedway and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.
Sunday was certainly a big blow to Truex’s chances to extend his playoff streak to eight straight years, but he might be as well positioned as any driver to win his way back into championship contention through a wild regular season’s final three races.
Stats courtesy of Racing Reference