TEXAS - Still smarting from the last-lap bump-and-run at Martinsville that cost him a win, Martin Truex Jr. is trying to keep his focus elsewhere as he approaches the second race in the Round of 8 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
After clearing Joey Logano off Turn 2 on the final circuit last Sunday, Truex fell victim to the bumper of the No. 22 Ford in the final turn. Logano took the checkered flag and the automatic berth in the Nov. 18 Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Clearly, the contact rubbed Truex the wrong way. The reigning series champion vowed after the race that Logano would not win the title this year.
After cooling down for a while, Truex sent Logano a text to let him know what he thought of Logano’s move. Logano responded, but from the sound of it, the animosity wasn’t completely defused.
“When things calm down, you think about it a little bit,” Truex said. “I didn’t expect to hear from him, so I wanted to tell him how I felt...
“I wanted to get his point of view and what he was thinking. What he thought about it. Now I know.”
But Truex doesn’t want to think about the incident as he prepares to race in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“We’ve got three races to go,” Truex said after opening practice on Friday. “We have two important races here where I’m in a position to run for a championship. I’m not going to let what happened last week take my focus off of that.
“I think it’s something that stays on the top of your mind. If you get in a certain situation where it would be wise to remember what happened, that’s there. I really haven’t thought past that. I know what’s on the line this weekend.
“It takes a lot of focus and mental strength to do this job. And to do it at a high level. I’m going to approach this weekend like I do any other.”
ARIC ALMIROLA BACK IN MUST-WIN MODE
Aric Almirola is a poster child for the value of winning stages and races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series — every time points are reset in the playoffs, the driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford is back in a hole.
After advancing through the Round of 16, Almirola won at Talladega to secure a spot in the Round of 8. Having accumulated only six playoff points over the first 32 races, however, he started the Round of 8 in the cellar.
Last Sunday at Martinsville, Almirola finished a respectable 11th, but he accumulated only one stage point. With Joey Logano winning the race and advancing to the Championship 4, Almirola enters Sunday 50 points below the current cut line.
“I feel like the situation we were in going into the playoffs that the only round where we could make it through on points was the first round,” Almirola said before Friday’s opening practice. “Once we got through the first round, at that point, we were far enough behind on bonus points that we were going to need to win.
“You can’t count on that many people in front of you on points having worse weekends than you. There’s a reason that the guys are who they are. The top eight or top 12 — it’s because they always run in the top 10. They are the same people challenging to win races. You can’t bank on just out-pointing them. We’re in a similar situation where we’re showing up here and we are like 50 points out. You aren’t going to make that up in two weeks. It is pretty plain and simple for us. We have to go win.”
Christopher Bell got a jarring wake-up call two weeks ago at Kansas Speedway.
On the first lap of the opening race in the Round of 8 in the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs, a slip in Turn 2 by fellow playoff driver Justin Allgaier knocked Bell out of the race. Gone in an instant was the security blanket Bell accumulated with six wins in the series this season.
Instead of leading the standings, Bell fell to fourth with his 37th-place finish. Facing a cutoff race Nov. 10 at Phoenix, Bell has a razor-thin one-point margin over fifth-place Matt Tifft entering Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NSCAR Radio).
“I’ll be honest, the days after Kansas I started to get pretty apprehensive just because nobody expected that, and it’s just kind of a wakeup call, right?” Bell said of the Kansas wreck. “That could have happened on a green-white-checkered restart and the outcome, hopefully I would have gained stage points, but the outcome would have been really similar.
“It can happen at any time and it’s very easy to do. I started getting apprehensive thinking about that and just talked to some of my mentors, and they gave me really good advice. They just said, ‘You can’t worry about that; the only thing you can do is control what you can control.’ If we can go out here and perform like we know we’re capable of and like we should, then we’ll be in really good shape, but if it’s not meant to be, it’s not meant to be.
“I’m just going to go out here and enjoy driving race cars. We have three really fun races left, so I’m excited about that.”
—By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.