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.”
"We had a phenomenal race car… Proud of everyone and proud of being the regular season champion. It's a big… https://t.co/VnNKv0L8Gj
— FalciAdaptiveMotorsports (@FalciAdaptive) September 4, 2017