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‘Nothing has gone right,’ but Martin Truex still has a shot at NASCAR’s final four

NASCAR: Cup Practice & Qualifying

The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs have been a complete disaster for Martin Truex Jr.

And yet, on the eve of the penultimate race of the season, and one that will set the field for the championship race next weekend at Phoenix Raceway, Truex still has a chance to race his way into the final four on Sunday at Martinsville.

It’s wild when putting it into writing but Truex has earned just one top-15 over the first eight races of the playoffs and is still just 17 points below the elimination cutline. That is the value of his three race wins, the regular season championship and all the stage wins earned by the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team over the first 26 races.

The current NASCAR Cup Series championship format rewards regular season success and Truex has milked it for everything it was worth across each round of the playoffs. Despite everything had gone wrong, Truex was poised to point his way with what looked like his second top-10 in a row when his engine failed and placed him at risk of elimination.

Remarkably, it was the first time all season a Toyota engine had failed.

“It’s been really tough, and nothing has really gone right,” Truex said. “I thought we were sitting in a really good position last week. Things were going pretty well, and then we pit and the bottom falls out. We lost two laps, we got them back, got back on the lead lap and then the engine blows up.

“It’s been an uphill battle. We really haven’t had much to be excited about other than the guys preparing fast cars to bring to the track the last few weeks. We will reset. We are ready to go again. This is a new week and a new opportunity, and we’ve been in this position before. Let’s just go see what we can do tomorrow.”

Truex has had his metal resiliency tested the past two months.

He entered the final race of the first round below the cutline and advanced when Joey Logano crashed out of the race. He suffered a variety of misfortunes in the second round too. Time and time again, he has been saved by his regular season playoff point total but each near miss has left an emotional impact.

“That’s my job, that’s what I’m supposed to do and be fully engaged and do the best job that I can do,” Truex said. “I’m ready to go. I’ve been talking to James (Small, crew chief) the last couple of days. We have a good game plan, and I feel really good about things.

“You just have to forget about it – as hard as that sounds. That’s what you do, that’s at least what I do. That week is over, and we have a new opportunity. 500 laps is a long race, and a lot can happen. You have to stay focused, be ready to have a shot at this thing in the end.”

NASCAR: Cup Practice & Qualifying
David Yeazell-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not the kind of playoff run Truex had anticipated with his decision to stave off retirement for a second year in a row back in August. He bought a really expensive deep-sea fishing boat and could be sitting on the ocean right now instead of sweating figurative bullets at Martinsville.

“It does feel like that when something like this first happens,” Truex conceded. “Then a few minutes later you come to your senses, and you are like okay, it’s all going to be okay.

“Again, we could do something huge tomorrow and next week and we would all forget about the past eight races. That is what we are going to try to do. We still have a big opportunity ahead to hopefully try to seize the moment.”

At 17 points, Truex likely needs to win his way into the final four, but could advance if a combination of Denny Hamlin, Tyler Reddick and Ryan Blaney all suffer misfortune … not that he wants constant updates all race.

“Honestly, no matter what the situation is – I feel like if you have to get one point or you’re one point in – then maybe there is something you can do but it doesn’t matter knowing who is running where,” he said. “I’ll need to know if it’s really close, and maybe I can pull something like a Ross Chastain move, but I don’t know how much I ‘ll need to know needing to make up 17 points.”

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

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