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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Martin Truex Jr. Clinches Regular-Season Title Despite Darlington Loss

Climbing out of the hot, steaming No. 78 Toyota following 500 rough miles, Martin Truex Jr. was, himself, hot and steaming.

And it was expected after cutting a tire while leading Sunday’s Southern 500 with two laps to go, giving the race win to Denny Hamlin.

Leading 76 laps on the night, a second straight Darlington win slipped away by shear luck.

“The car was worse and worse every lap,” Truex said of his slow-but-sure late handling issue. “I could hold my own in clean air, but catching those lapped cars, I was so loose. No tires left. It was a huge challenge. I was so focused on just keeping it off the fence. I did the best I could tonight.

“Cole [Pearn, crew chief] was wanting to pit two laps later — some guys pitted and he wanted to jump in. Those two laps would’ve been the difference.”

When his right front blew entering Turn 3, a light hit of the wall kept Truex off pit road for an additional lap, dragging the four-time 2017 winner to an eighth-place result.

Though his four-second lead turned to 0.50 in less than eight laps, the tire failure was a shock for Truex.

“We ran longer runs than that earlier in the race and didn’t have nay trouble,” he said. “I don’t know if I had a slow leak, ran something over. Just one of them deals. You win some and lose some.”

Truex did just that Sunday night, losing the race win, but clinching a win in the regular-season title, a prize that comes with 15 points that go straight to the playoffs which kicks off in two weeks at Chicagoland Speedway.

“Clinching the regular season is a big deal for all of us,” he said. “The playoffs bonus points are going to be huge for me. A little bittersweet but a lot to be proud of. Clinching is hard to do. It’s fun to drive your heart out and it actually gets you somewhere.

“Big picture, it was a good night, but we want to win though. This is such a big racetrack… to come up two laps short is a tough one to swallow.”