Martin Truex Jr. is the points leader entering the 2017 NASCAR playoffs for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship. But he isn’t all-around happy.
Following a controversial call of caution late in Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway, Truex lost his three-second lead, later crashing on the final lap.
Though the Furniture Row Racing driver has had near-wins before, the circumstances stemming from an “unnecessary caution” that night prompted Truex to talk with Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell to discuss the issue heading into the playoffs this weekend.
“For the most part this year, they’ve been consistent,” Truex said. “Jumping on every hot dog wrapper for a caution, that sort of thing we’ve seen in years past. Saturday night at Richmond was a departure from what we’ve seen the last five or six months. That’s really what I wanted to talk to Steve about, why did they throw the caution?”
Though the conversation was healthy, Truex wants to see more action in place of statements regarding officiating. The four-time race winner this year is concerned on the consistency of late-race yellows as the playoffs begin Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway.
“I heard what I wanted to hear. It did not change anything,” he said. “Don’t just tell me, show me. I’d like to see it play out the right way.
“The biggest problem I have is that every year during the driver’s meeting [NASCAR says] ‘Let is play out naturally, we don’t want anyone screwing with the race.’ And then they make the wrong call. It’s frustrating.”
Despite the crushing end to the regular season finale at Richmond, Truex foresees an even worse scenario if it happens again at Homestead, a similar event that took the championship from Carl Edwards in 2016.
“Dale Jr.’s tweet this week about Carl Edwards and his championship going away last year for a caution,” he said. “It’s hard not to think about it. If we’re in the same situation at Homestead, that would be really, really hard to take. They just have to be consistent and be sure to make the right call when the pressure’s on. That’s their job. Just make the right call at the right time.”
The conversation with O’Donnell expanded to talks about cars meeting minimum speed. Derrike Cope, who was 16 laps down at the time of the hit with the wall, joined what Truex feels is an issue in the series, especially with the dog-eat-dog nature in the playoffs.
“We should up the minimum speed on cars not in an accident who didn’t get on the five-minute crash clock for damage,” he said. “For that very reason. We don’t want to go to Homestead and have a car 25 laps down scrap the wall, blow a tire and change the outcome on the championship. For quite a while now, we have had cars here and there who are so far off the pace, you don’t know where they’re going to go into the corner. It’s not a huge issue, but it’s something we have to look at. And it is something they’re willing to look into. I think it makes sense.”
Even when the luck has been against them, the No. 78 FRR bunch have a 20-point advantage over second-place Kyle Larson, gaining the lead through 17 stage wins and four race wins. While he hopes NASCAR will let the races play out, he feels the speed is there to jump on any opportunity the next 10 weeks.
The last four laps of the last two races have been tough,” he said. “But, we have had a really strong season, I’d love to have an extra 10 pints on top of what we have. A few races have gotten away, but I think we’ll be OK. It won’t hurt our confidence how the last two have played out. We’re in good shape.”