Disastrous playoff run eliminates NASCAR regular season champion

NASCAR: Xfinity 500

‘Nothing has gone right,’ said Martin Truex Jr. on Saturday before the race at Martinsville Speedway and the trend continued until it ultimately eliminated him.

Truex actually started the race from the pole and led 47 laps with a third-place opening stage but his race was upended with a pit road speeding penalty during the caution on Lap 261. That sent the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 19 to the rear of the field and they spent the rest of the race stuck outside of the top-20.

It was only after some cars pit for fuel late, along with some attrition, that Truex was able to salvage a 12th place run with only eight stage points. He just couldn’t get his track position back.

“If we couldn’t find a way to flip track position pit stop-wise, we were never going to get there,” Truex said. “Our car was good. The field is so tight, so close. Your car drives so much worse in traffic. I felt like we did really good to get back to where we did. You just burn the tires off so much worse back there in the hot, dirty track, dirty air. You’re in more rubber.”

In real time, Truex was adamant that his dashboard showed he was good entering pit road at the time NASCAR hit him with the decisive penalty.

“Really disappointed,” Truex said. “I mean, I thought I was well under speed leaving that box. Clearly we were speeding, so we have something to look at there. It’s devastating. That’s racing.”

All told, Truex posted a 19.0 average finish over the first nine races of the playoffs, saved over the first two rounds due the 36 playoff points earned as a result of his three wins and regular season championship.

Truex never even scored a top-15 in the playoffs until the first race of this round at Las Vegas. He followed that up with an engine failure last week at Homestead and the speeding penalty marred race at Martinsville.

“Man, I think it just shows how tough this sport is,” Truex said. “Anybody that races here and guys that have raced here that do the broadcasts, they’ll tell you, it’s this close, man. You find this little bit and suddenly you look like a hero. Some other guys find some stuff, suddenly you’re not. We’ve been fast at times, but execution hasn’t been solid, hasn’t been consistent. We’ve had some bad luck. We’ve had a little bit of everything.

“Like I said, some years it feels like it’s your year, some years it feels like it’s not. I just feel we couldn’t do anything right. If it was ever a 50/50 call, it always went against us. A blown engine, a flat tire, you name it — problem after problem. Just kept setting us back, and we couldn’t get no momentum. I think we did a great job today. It was a tiny little error, 0.2mph can ruin your whole year, unfortunately.”

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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