DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – AUGUST 28: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, looks on after the NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on August 28, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) | fake images
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Seven series-high stage wins, 12 top-10 finishes and 456 laps led weren’t good enough to get Martin Truex Jr. into the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
When Truex and Ryan Blaney showed up at Daytona International Speedway, they weren’t expecting shenanigans. In other words, neither wanted a new winner in the 2022 season. But it’s Daytona, a track that thrives on the unpredictable.
It took nearly 31 laps of Sunday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 for Blaney’s plans to go awry. When race leader Erik Jones broke free, he created havoc directly behind him, and Blaney, who was third on the inside line, was slammed into the outside wall.
The damage was significant. Blaney told his team that his steering wheel turned 180 degrees sideways. The toe link was broken. The No. 12 car was battered.
“I tried to get it going and evaluate [my] damage,” Blaney said after the race. “Like, ‘What do I have? How bad is it?’ After that you go down pit road and say, ‘I can’t believe that happened.’
“We weren’t even being aggressive.”
Meanwhile, Truex earned six stage points in Stage 1. During the second stage, the No. 19 Toyota took second place and scored an additional nine points. Through two stages, Truex cut 15 of the 25 points that trailed Blaney for the potential final playoff spot.
The turning point of the race was on the second lap after the final stage had started. Truex found himself on the backstretch when Tyler Reddick made contact with Michael McDowell, leading to an eight-car crash. The No. 19 car remained on the lead lap, while Blaney was still six laps down after repairs to his car.
“It didn’t have the right front fender,” Truex said of his damage. “I have no idea what was going on. Our car was so damaged. The left rear was a parachute, the right front fender was gone.”
On lap 139, both Truex and Blaney avoided the “Big One”, in which 13 cars collided on a wet track at Turn 1. Austin Dillon, who was running 16th at the time, slid through the carnage and came out ahead. Had the race been considered official, Blaney would be on the outside looking in, 12 points behind Truex.
“I fully accepted the fact that if it rained at any time, we’d be out,” Blaney added of his thoughts during the weather delay. “You have to accept those things and know that you have no control over them.”
After a rain delay of 3:19:57, both drivers were still in the running for points, Blaney the lion’s share. Sitting six laps behind, the No. 12 car was able to jump from 29th on the points pylon to 15th at the checkered flag. Meanwhile, Truex finished eighth in a race car that appeared to have completed 500 laps at Martinsville.
Unfortunately for Truex, Austin Dillon won his first race in two years, locking himself out of the postseason. And Blaney earned 15 points in the final 21 laps to edge out the No. 19 car by three points.
“We really did a good job – getting 22 points back in one race is a huge win,” Truex said. “Unfortunately, it was not enough today. We had a smart race and we were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“It’s frustrating here, we run well and then we crash. At the end of the day, we had a somewhat decent result, but it doesn’t really matter.”
Truex said that with Blaney running 15th, he knew where he had to finish to stay ahead of the No. 12 car. But with damage to his right front fender and left rear quarter panel, he didn’t have enough speed to get to that position.
Blaney was thankful that his No. 12 team made the necessary repairs to keep him on a straight line.
“I shook hands with all those guys and told them what a good job and way to go,” he said. “They did a great job fixing that thing; It was destroyed.”
This is the first year since 2014 that Truex has missed the postseason. In the past seven postseasons, he’s won one championship (2017), made five Championship 4 appearances and finished in the top two in points four times.
Finishing fourth in the regular season standings wasn’t good enough this year.
“It sucks, there’s no way to sugarcoat it,” Truex said. “You race all year, you push yourself and you try to do whatever it takes and to take three points is pretty hard to swallow when I know we can do something in the playoffs.”
Truex has won at five of the 10 tracks that make up the Playoffs.
On the other hand, Blaney is going to enjoy his night. He plans to go unnoticed.
“I’m going to crack open a beer and relax a little bit because it was a stressful day,” Blaney said. “It will be nice to relax a bit.”
With the No. 45 team remaining in the battle for the owners’ championship and Dillon winning, neither the No. 12 nor No. 19 teams will be able to compete for the ownership title.