DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Despite driving a damaged race car, Martin Truex Jr. put himself in position to win Sunday’s Daytona 500.
He took the lead with two laps remaining, but then his position started to go in the wrong direction. Truex got shuffled out of line, and on the final lap, his car ran out of fuel, leaving him with a 13th-place finish in the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series season opener.
“We did what we wanted to do and that was to put ourselves in position to have a shot at winning this race,” said Truex. "We came close but didn’t get it done in the end. But considering where we came from it was a good effort that should have had a better finish.”
After starting in the back of the field, Truex found his way to the front. But on a lap 57 pit stop a flying lug nut got lodged inside the wheel forcing Truex to make a return trip to pit road. A few laps later he fell a lap down and did not get back on the lead lap until Lap 120.
Eight laps later Truex’s No. 78 Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Boats Toyota suffered right front damage as a result of a multicar accident on the 2.5-mile tri-oval. He brought the car down pit road as his Furniture Row Racing crew repaired the damage the best they could under NASCAR’s new five-minute time limit.
From that point on, Truex avoided a number of multicar wrecks and even made a miraculous save from spinning out with 44 laps remaining.
“We sure had a roller coaster Daytona 500,” said Truex. “Since our position might have appeared to be bleak early in the race, we kept fighting to the end with a damaged race car that was a handful to drive.”
Truex moved into second place on Lap 180 of 200 and held that spot until he took the lead on Lap 198.
“I am disappointed right now, but I guess it could have been better and could have been worse,” noted Truex. “But when you’re so close as we were last year with a runner-up finish there’s a stinging feeling. I am sure it will pass and we’ll get ready for next week’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.”
The race winner Kurt Busch. Rounding out the top-10 were: Ryan Blaney, AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Paul Menard, Joey Logano, Kasey Kahne, Michael Waltrip, Matt DiBenedetto and Trevor Bayne.
The Daytona 500 ended just past the halfway point for Erik Jones when the car directly in front of his No. 77 5-hour ENERGY Toyota Camry spun out. “There was no place to go,” said Jones, who was competing in his first Daytona 500.
Hard contact with the No. 18 Toyota of Kyle Busch created substantial damage to the Furniture Row Racing entry and had to be retired on lap 103 of 200. Jones was credited with the 39th finishing position in his first NASCAR Cup Series point race at Daytona International Speedway.
“It’s hard to say [what happened] without talking to Kyle [Busch],” said Jones. “I don’t know if he cut a tire or had an issue but obviously got turned around there in [turn] three and I just got in the side of him. There was nowhere for me to really go, unfortunately, and we just all kind of got caught up.”
Jones started the 59th running of the Great American Race from the 34th position and picked up three spots in the first lap. Daytona is known for shuffling the pack almost constantly and Jones, still getting comfortable in the first race of his rookie NASCAR Cup Series season, moved up and down between 31st and 40th in the opening laps.
Coming down pit road for a scheduled stop under green on Lap 18, the car ahead of Jones wavered on which pit box it was headed to which forced Jones to miss his. Time lost backing up into the designated area required additional time on pit road and Jones was 37th when returning to action a lap later.
The 5-hour ENERGY Toyota Camry made a second green-flag stop two laps shy of the conclusion of the 60-lap first stage and another on lap 80. With teams running different strategies, Jones found himself a lap down on Lap 90 but running with the leaders, including the Toyotas of Busch and Kenseth. The pack was headed into Turn 3 on lap 104 when Busch spun in front of Jones.
“I learned a lot,” said Jones. “It’s just nice settling in with everybody on the team, my spotter Rick Carelli, working more with Chris [Gayle, crew chief] and into the role with these cars. I was trying to figure it all out and thought we were in a good spot to cycle out toward the front. I was just getting to the point where I thought we were going to get to start racing and [the wreck] happened.”