LAS VEGAS — For the first time in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, Martin Truex Jr. led laps and earned a top-10 finish.
Truex finished ninth and led nine laps Sunday. However, leading those laps almost cost him a shot at a top-10 finish.
Crew chief James Small kept Martin Truex Jr. out on lap 83 and put him in the lead when stage two started on lap 86.
Truex was on 10-lap older tires, however, and dropped through the field. By the time of the next caution, on lap 112, Truex was in 16th.
“That pit call really killed us,” Truex said. “My gut reaction was, ‘Don’t do it, don’t stay out’ but I like to listen to my crew chief and do what they say no matter what because they know what’s best. The driver is 90% wrong when they go against the crew chief.”
The 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion was better on longer runs. During a 29-lap run from laps 117 to 146, he jumped from 18th to ninth.
Then, on a lap 149 restart, he sunk from 12th to 21st and placed 20th when stage two ended on lap 167.
Truex still struggled in stage three as he battled fellow playoff Chris Buescher for 18th.
“Same thing all day. Whenever I get in traffic or run up high, the back end is f*cking out of control,” Truex said on the radio. “Don’t have any f*cking option.”
Truex kept with it, saying post-race that “all I can do is drive the damn thing as hard as I can.”
During the 40-lap run, from laps 171 to 211, Truex jumped to 14th. He caught another long run – 45 laps – and finished ninth.
The ninth-place finish is Truex’s best since finishing sixth at Watkins Glen in August. His previous best playoff finish was 17th at Texas last month.
He also led laps in a race for the first time since leading four laps at Daytona in August.
“Not sure what we were missing today but we’re still in it. Just gotta have a good day next week and we’ll be in good shape for Martinsville,” Truex said.
Truex has won at each of the next three tracks coming up, beginning with Homestead-Miami Speedway, October 22.