Road to Richmond: Atlanta

Martin Truex Jr

Martin Truex Jr. clinched a Chase spot at Atlanta last year. Can he do it again this year? (Photo: Getty Images)

Martin Truex Jr. admits that as he’s looked back upon this season there are moments that make him want to say, “you’ve got to be kidding me.’’

He made that comment last weekend at Bristol - a day before he broke his right wrist in a crash. Now, holding one of the two Wild Card spots, an injured Truex tries to keep his Chase spot with two races left before the Chase field is set at at Richmond International Raceway.

“It’s unfortunate that it happened at this point in the season given our position in the standings,’’ Truex said in a statement issued by the team. “Our goals don’t change. We are going to Atlanta to win. It will be a challenge, but I think we’re up to it. I know I am.” 

Truex suffered a scaphoid fracture and sprain and was fitted with a cast. He enters Sunday night’s race 14th in the point standings but holds a Wild Card spot because of his Sonoma win. 

Former champions Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch and Jeff Gordon rank 11th-13th in the points. A victory would strengthen their chances of making the Chase and could put Truex in a more vulnerable position. Truex is trying to make the Chase for the second consecutive year and third time overall.

An advantage for Truex is that he’s had top-10 finishes in each of the five races on 1.5-mile tracks this season. The problem is that the last such race came two months ago at Kentucky. He’s had two top-10 finishes in the eight races since. He’s struggled on bigger tracks lately, placing between 11th and 16th at Indianapolis, Pocono and Michigan.

A year ago, Atlanta broke Truex’s heart. He was set to win the race when Jamie McMurray’s crash brought out a caution and created a green-white-checkered finish. Truex lost the lead on pit road and a slow restart doomed him to a fourth-place finish. It was good enough to clinch a Chase spot, but Truex wasn’t thrilled afterward. 

“It just sucks when you have one locked up like that and a caution comes out,’’ he said that night.

Now, he’ll see if can change his fortune at the same track this year.

Here’s what others seeking to make the Chase face this weekend:

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (7th, 714 points) - He can clinch a spot if he leaves Atlanta 49 points ahead of 11th place. He enters the weekend 33 points ahead of 11th. Earnhardt has one top-10 finish this season in five races on 1.5-mile speedways and that came at Las Vegas in the season’s third race. It appears likely he’ll have to clinch a spot next week at Richmond.

Kasey Kahne (8th, 701 points) - His two victories put him in a good spot to take one of the Wild Card positions should he fall out of the top 10 in points. With four top-10 finishes in the last five races, including a runner-up result last weekend at Bristol, he looks to be in good shape. 

Greg Biffle (9th, 698 points) - Back-to-back ninth-place finishes keep him in the top 10 in points. Since winning at Michigan in June, Biffle has four top-10 finishes in nine races. 

Joey Logano (10th, 685 points) - He has scored five consecutive top-10 finishes - best in the series. It wasn’t easy continuing that streak last weekend at Bristol. Logano suffered damage to the right front of the car, was penalized for speeding on pit road, was blocked in his pit stall during one stop and had trash on his grille but rallied to finish fifth. He’s placed 11th or better in 11 of the last 13 races. 

Brad Keselowski (11th, 681 points) - Defending series champion remains winless and could miss the Chase. Team has shown speed but things haven’t worked out. A good sign for his fans: He’s finished sixth or better in the last two Atlanta races. 

Kurt Busch (12th, 679 points) - Just days after signing to drive for Stewart-Haas Racing next season, Busch has to rally his team to make the Chase. Will his impending departure be an issue? The bigger question could be pit road for the team. The pit crew has struggled at times and that has hurt the team.

Jeff Gordon (13th, 674 points) - He rallied to make the Chase at Richmond last year and looks like he’ll need to do it again. Question is the team’s consistency. Team has had three consecutive top-10 finishes only once this year. He finished seventh at Bristol last weekend and likely will need two more top-10 finishes and maybe a win to make the Chase.

Martin Truex Jr. (14th, 663 points) - Holds first of two Wild Card spots with his Sonoma win, but heads into final two races before the Chase field is set with a broken right wrist. Can he overcome the injury to make the Chase?

Ryan Newman (15th, 659 points) - Holds the second of two Wild Card spots with his win at Indianapolis. Since Indy win, though, he’s had one top-10 finish in the last four races. 

 

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