Texas Motor Speedway

A tough day, but still a good day for Truex as he remains in contention for Cup title

Officials start the race for stage two during the AAA Texas 500 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, Sunday, Nov. 04, 2018.
Officials start the race for stage two during the AAA Texas 500 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, Sunday, Nov. 04, 2018. Special to the Star-Telegram

There’s no one happy on Martin Truex’s No. 78 Toyota team after he finished ninth in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500.

Maybe they should be.

The defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion survived on a day in which he started at the back after changing engines after practice, lost a lap because of a tire issue and avoided a late-race crash.

All of that and Truex heads to Phoenix next week still in a good spot to earn a shot in the championship as he’s 25 points ahead of fifth-place Kurt Busch.

“I’m telling you, God is testing us,” Truex said. “There’s no question. Had to start at the back, got to the front, hung around there for a while and then had a loose wheel there again. Just a tough day. Overall, a good day.

“Luckily we were able to get up front and get some stage points in the first two stages and then we had trouble, but we had it at least in time to recover.”

Sunday’s race came a week after Truex had the race won at Martinsville only to have Joey Logano use a bump-and-run to pass on the final lap to nab a championship spot.

Truex was able to make up ground Sunday on a day when passing was tough to do.

“It was bad,” he said. “We lapped the same lap cars every three laps. You would lap the same guys and they would run — they don’t understand how hard it is to drive 20 mph faster than them on their left side getting in the corner. It gets you loose and it’s a handful. It was hard, this track is tough and it was really, really hard to pass, but we passed a lot of cars so it’s possible.”

Tough day for Kyle

Kyle Busch started Sunday’s race in 10th spot. That may have been the highlight. The playoff hopeful got two laps down and was never a factor as he finished the race 17th.

A loose wheel cost him two laps and he was also penalized for speeding in the pits.

Busch is still 28 points ahead of the cut line for a championship spot heading to Phoenix but that was little consolation Sunday. He didn’t get back on the lead lap until the final caution set up the overtime finish.

“We had a fast car,” crew chief Adam Stevens said. “You speed on pit road, you go to the back and you have a loose wheel under green then lose a couple laps and we just couldn’t get back on the lead lap.

“Obviously at the very end we did, but it didn’t matter at that point with only a green-white-checkered to finish. Felt like we had something we could have raced for. We didn’t make many adjustments, but nothing to show for it.”

Miscommunication costs Johnson

Jimmie Johnson was forced to start at the back of the field Sunday after NASCAR said the team was penalized for failing pre-race inspection three times. The problem was Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet only failed inspection twice and he should have started 23rd where he qualified.

NASCAR said there was an error in communication.

Johnson finished 15th and led 11 laps. He had led just 29 laps in 2018 before Sunday.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s vice president and chief racing development officer, put the blame on the series. He said the mistake was unacceptable and disappointing and processes would be put place to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.

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