Truex shines but settles for third place at Dover

DOVER — For much of the afternoon, Martin Truex Jr. had the fastest car in Dover.

Certainly nobody at Dover International Speedway would have been surprised if he ended up taking the checkered flag.

In the end, though, Truex was pretty happy just to take third place in Sunday’s Monster Energy Series Cup AAA 400 Drive for Autism.

That’s because, with about 60 laps remaining, Truex had to pit under a green flag for tires.

That put him a lap down and pushed him back into the field.

And while Truex was able to prove how fast his car was by picking off one car after another to get back toward the front, it was too little, too late.

Martin Truex Jr. signs an autograph for a young NASCAR fan at Dover International Speedway on Sunday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“I don’t know that we had the best car,” said Truex, “but we had a good car, for sure.

“The 42 (Kyle Larson) and the 48 (Jimmie Johnson), we were all so close. It seemed like whoever got out front was the best.

“It’s not the finish we hoped for. But, still, when you’re disappointed with third, that speaks volumes about your team and where you’re at.”

Truex, whose family has business ties to Milford, led a total of 102 laps — second-most behind only Larson (241).

He also won both of the first two stages of the race, earning two playoff points under the new system. He held onto the overall series lead by nine points over Larson.

Truex and Larson dualed several times during the race as tempers seemed to flare. At one point, Truex came up behind Larson’s car and simply nudged him out of the way.

Larson said the incident was no big deal.

“I was on two (good) tires, I think, at that point and I was just trying to fight him off,” said Larson. “His patience probably ran out with me and he shoved me into (turn) three. I almost found the wall but was able to stay out of it.

“I mean we were just racing hard. We’re racecar drivers so that’s what we’re supposed to do. We were just racing hard. … I always enjoy racing him.”

In a race that featured 15 cautions, Truex said it was a grueling afternoon. The race last just shy of four hours.

“I had a lot of fun out there today,” he said. “I can’t even tell you how challenging this track was with these cars, this areo package and all that.

“I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count how many times I almost wrecked by myself. It was a lot of fun, it was a challenge.”

In a lot of ways, Sunday was a big success for Truex.

He collected 54 points for his day. Only winner Johnson earned more with 55.

Truex has also won eight stages this season — five more than anybody else in the series. He also owns 12 top-10 finishes in his 23 career races at Dover.

The checkered flag was about the only thing that eluded him.

When it was all said and done, Truex said he couldn’t help but be proud of his finish.

“At a place that’s difficult to pass, we had to come from about 15th to get to third,” he said. “Definitely proud of the run, proud of the effort and proud of the car the guys brought here today.

“I wish we could have had a little better shot at it toward the end there but, all in all, third is a decent day with two stage wins.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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