Martin Truex Jr’s season is on the brink and we now know what caused his latest NASCAR Cup Series playoff setback.
The regular season champions have had a miserable playoff run to date, with only a single finish better than 15th and that came at Las Vegas, a race in which a bad strategic called doomed their chance to maximize stage points and a finish better than seventh.
Truex and crew chief James Small have only been able to advance to this point because they were the three-win regular season champions with a sizeable enough playoff point advantage that they kept getting reset to the top of the standings after each three race round.
But with an engine failure late on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Truex now finds himself 17 points below the elimination cutline with just one race remaining to make the final four this weekend at Martinsville Speedway.
Toyota Racing Development president David Wilson took responsibility for what he detailed as a valve spring failure placing Truex at risk of elimination.
“This is on us, because we build and service and own all the engines on the Toyota teams,” Wilson said on SiriusXM NASCAR radio Wednesday morning. “This is our worst nightmare when we have anything go wrong with our engine. Our job is to put quality engines in the cars of each of our Camrys.”
Toyota had yet to have a single engine failure this season and the first occurred at the worst possible time.
“Unfortunately, that record is now smudged and we can’t pick and choose when that’s going to happen,” Wilson said. “Unfortunately, it’s a mechanical thing and these things do happen. We can’t change what happened.
We can’t roll back the clock (but) where we will be measured is how we respond to that. That started on Sunday afternoon since Martin pulled in the garage and what we realized was the almighty valve spring gave out and ultimately precipitated that failure.”
Overall, Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota had a bittersweet day at Homestead with Christopher Bell locking into the championship race but only after Truex and Hamlin fell out of the race. Hamlin hit the wall after suffering a mechanical failure and then traded back-and-forths with Ryan Blaney.
Team owner Joe Gibbs says its all a reflection about how ‘hard’ NASCAR racing is.
“We had such a disappointment with the 11, Denny, cutting a tire down,” Gibbs said. “I felt like he was fast. Martin qualified on the pole. I thought we had a chance with that car. A series of circumstances, then lose the motor. Shows you how hard the sport is because those were the two cars for a while for us that were up front.”
Truex does have three wins at Martinsville but they all came in the previous generation of car. He also has 10 top-5s and 16 top-10s at the Virginia short track.
He’s led 1,016 laps in 35 starts there.
“Martinsville for a long time in my career was a really tough place to figure out,” Truex said in a Wednesday press release. “We eventually hit on some things and it’s been pretty good for a while. Then we went to the NextGen car last year and it was a struggle for us.
“I’m really optimistic going into this weekend because we ran third there in the spring. Martinsville looks so easy, it’s just a small, little half-mile track, but it’s so tricky with the concrete in the corners and, every time you go there, it’s different.
It doesn’t make sense because the track is the same, but it does make it different depending on the temperature and the tire and everything that’s going on with these cars. Running third there in the spring, I think we learned a lot we can use going forward and, hopefully, we can find some of that old magic we had there a few years ago again this weekend.”
Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.