RICHMOND, Va. — Despite officially being presented with the hardware for winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular season championship Saturday night at Richmond Raceway, Martin Truex Jr. was in no way a happy man.
Instead, he was both lamenting what probably should have been — a fifth win of the season and five more playoff points — and criticizing the late turn of events that allowed those two things to slip through his fingers.
Truex had a roughly four-second lead over Kyle Larson when Derrike Cope, who was running 36th at the time and was multiple laps down, slid up the track and scraped the wall in turns three and four.
It was light contact, and nothing appeared to fly off of Cope’s No. 15, but it was enough that in NASCAR’s eyes a caution was necessary.
However, it ultimately led to Truex losing what was otherwise a surefire victory.
The leaders came down pit road for tires as a result of the yellow, with a 10.6-second pit stop by Larson’s crew getting the No. 42 off pit road first ahead of Truex, making Larson the control car for an overtime restart.
Larson nailed it when the green flag flew, and the rest is history, as they say.
Truex found himself helpless as Larson drove away, before he was tipped sideways by Denny Hamlin entering turn one on the final lap, making heavy contact with the outside wall that both relegated him to 20th in the final rundown and brought out a race-ending caution.
However Truex was more incensed with the caution for Cope’s contact with the wall than he was with Hamlin after the race.
“I just don’t agree with the caution,” Truex said after receiving the regular season champion’s trophy. “I think it’s ridiculous that, again, there’s a guy out there that shouldn’t even be out there, 20 some laps down, riding around. As slow as he is, he can’t even hold his damn line. It’s ridiculous. He scrapes the wall, they throw a caution with (three) to go. That’s not what racing should be.”
“I’m mad about that. But I have to go back and watch the tape, see how it exactly played out. I’m madder about all that than I am about losing. Just a hard way to lose ’em.”
Truex’s ire didn’t end there, either. He expounded on his issue with the game-changing caution, as well as the 1990 Daytona 500 champion, during his post-race media center availability.
“I don’t even think (Cope) makes minimum speed, and really doesn’t even belong out there,” Truex said. “I don’t know if he apparently scraped the wall a few times, and I don’t know, couldn’t stay in the race track as slow as he was going. It’s unfortunate they threw a caution for that, and I don’t know if it should have been thrown or not.”
“I just think that’s ridiculous that a guy could cause a caution with (three laps) to go as bad as he’s running and just riding around there basically just making laps. Yeah, it’s pretty dumb.”
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