NASCAR Cup Series
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Aug 26, 2022
It wasn’t for the best of circumstances, but the decision made by Kurt Busch to withdraw from playoff consideration offered a lifeline of sorts to Toyota stablemate Martin Truex Jr.
Truex went from needing a win or making up 25 points on Ryan Blaney this weekend in the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway to being above the cutline but still at risk of elimination should there be a new winner.
The math is simple: Blaney has 25 points over Truex. They both make the playoffs should there be a repeat winner on Saturday. If there is a new winner within the top-30 of the championship standings that isn’t winless Blaney or Truex, it would eliminate the one of them that has the fewest points.
So, while Truex is now back above the cutline, he has incentive to race for stage points on Saturday, just in case the winner is one of the following capable drivers:
"First off, obviously, we're all thinking about Kurt and wishing him the best and hopefully, he gets better and he can come back and do what he loves to do," Truex said. "He's been a good teammate this year. First time I've worked with him at Toyota that’s been fun so wish him the best.
"For us, we're not in until it's over tomorrow night. I don't really have any feelings either way. We’re here to race and excited and two scenarios, one we get in on points, or we win the race. That will be optimum because of the points situations. But yeah, we'll see. You know, we just kind of how it all plays out and we can make our own way in there."
To that end, Truex says he's racing for as many points over Blaney as he can get over the first two stages -- which pay a maximum of 10 points across the top-10 over both segments.
"I mean, I think we had a really strong car here in February," Truex said. "Led a ton of laps won two stages. Then we got kind of banged up and then finished kind of tore up, so you didn't have the speed at the end of the race. But I had a really strong day going and Talladega went good as well. So, I feel like our car is really fast here. And hopefully we can take advantage of that. Would be a fun way to win one here with everything on the line."
Meanwhile, Blaney will do his best to avoid a costly crash and maybe try to pick up some stage points as well, but won’t really know what the game plan is until the start of the final stage.
"You have to understand what position you're in going into that final stage, by then you're going to know where you're at in points and where you need to finish compared to Martin," Blaney said. "Worst case scenario, Martin beats us on points and there's a new winner. We're out.
"You decide at the start of the third stage where you sit and hopefully you're still running and then make those decisions. It's hard to tell right now. Obviously, you're going to make the best decisions for your team coming to the end of it and hopefully we're in a spot to where we can advance. I just want to be there at the end. I don't want to be in the position where you're sitting in the bus."
Truex said he would even be willing to push Blaney to the win at the end of the race, as that would also lock Truex into the playoffs.
"I can tell you what I'm not going to do, and that's push someone else to their first win," Truex said.
Blaney and Truex are remarkably third and sixth in the standings but both at risk of missing the Round of 16 due to the amount of parity in the winner's column and their lack of wins.
Truex was the beneficiary of his stablemate's decision to decline a playoff waiver but wasn't privy to those internal conversations until it was made public.
"I heard the news just like everybody else," Truex said. "So yeah, I don't know. I don't really know what went into the process and for Kurt not being in the Playoffs. He probably didn’t feel right taking the spot. I don't know that would be different if it was anybody else in that 16th position. I really don't know. We didn't have those conversations.
"It's a good opportunity for us and you know, obviously it's not been the season we've wanted. It would have been nice to be locked-in. You never want to come here to Daytona and not be locked-in and having to make something happen. So that's why, you know, we’ll just go race tomorrow night, see what happens and really not thinking about it either way, to be honest with you."
Like Truex, Blaney is also rooting for Busch to come back when healthy and able.
"As a competitor, you don't ever want to stop doing what you love," Blaney said. "It seems like he understood where he was at physically and felt like he couldn't get behind the wheel of a car. I bet that was one of the toughest choices he's had to make in his professional career. You never want to be in that spot."
As it stands, Blaney and Truex are now in the spot of both making the playoffs but there are 13 other winless drivers eligible to win and knock one of them out.