Race Weekend Central

Martin Truex Jr. Just Had the Saddest Playoffs Ever

Expectations in sports can be as fluid as they are fickle.

While some teams are simply happy to punch above their weight, knowing others have more resources, the top organizations are often in “championship or bust” mode. And once the playoffs arrive in sports that have them, things can change quickly.

It’s no different in NASCAR. Ryan Blaney, for instance, would probably have been overjoyed if you had visited him from several months in the future at Daytona International Speedway to reassure him that he’d make the Championship 4 for the first time — but now that he’s made it, you can bet he wants to win the title.

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Thinkin' Out Loud: Ryan Blaney Is the Championship Favorite

A NASCAR Cup Series championship was a realistic goal for Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 19 team when the season started. He’d won one before, after all, when he was still driving for Furniture Row Racing. It’s hard to argue against the idea that Joe Gibbs Racing is better funded and generally better equipped for any kind of championship pursuit.

Perhaps even more significantly, Truex did something this year that he also did en route to his 2017 series title: He won the regular season championship, a testament to his consistency over the course of 26 races. Except for a 24th-place result in the final regular season race at Daytona, Truex also entered the postseason with momentum, racking up six consecutive top-seven results (including his third win of 2023) between New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Watkins Glen International.

To say he and JGR should have been running for anything but a championship seems kind of ridiculous.

Of course, Truex won’t be running for anything but a fourth victory this weekend at Phoenix Raceway, and even that could be a stretch given what he and his team have done over the past nine weeks. “Debacle” isn’t too strong a description.

The Round of 16 would have sunk the No . 19 bunch immediately were it not for the points cushion that came with the regular season trophy and three wins. Truex started off with a not-so-great 18th at Darlington Raceway, which somehow turned out to be his best finish of the round.

Surely, there was reason to think things would turn around in the next three races, despite it not featuring tracks where Truex has traditionally been strong. His performance did improve … but only because there was no 36th-place washout like at Kansas Speedway.

Through six playoff races, Truex turned in an average finish of 21.3 with a best effort of 17th. Incredibly, he managed to underperform his career average at four of the sixth tracks. Truex managed to outdo his usual work at only two of his worst venues: Bristol Motor Speedway, where his 19th was better than his 20.7 average on concrete, and Talladega Superspeedway, where coming home 18th was better than his career average of 21.3.

Far from looking like a contender, Truex was instead Exhibit A for why NASCAR should consider changing its playoff rules to eliminate the playoff points that follow drivers from round to round.

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5 Points to Ponder: Please Change the Playoff Point System Now

Keeping Truex around for the Round of 8 was essentially a joke, but he finally broke through with a top 10 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he’s often found success. After finishing 29th at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he was nearly in must-win territory at Martinsville Speedway, meaning a 12th wasn’t enough to get it done.

What went wrong during this postseason to forget? Just about everything. Truex crashed out early at Kansas thanks to a blown tire. He spun at Bristol, got caught up in a multi-car incident at Texas and blew an engine at Homestead.

Even when things out of control weren’t conspiring against them, the No. 19 team caused its own issues. At Darlington, Truex hit the wall during practice but didn’t think it was a big deal. Spoiler: It kind of was. The pit crew was slower than other playoff teams almost everywhere, and crew chief James Small made what in his own words was a “terrible decision” on a crucial pit strategy call that cost valuable stage points at Las Vegas.

These are the kinds of unforced errors that no team can afford, especially when its luck is also running bad. Maybe they could be excused for a team that had never made the playoffs, but for this bunch? They’re almost inexcusable.

That brings us back to expectations. Truex was the regular-season champ, and even if that doesn’t mean he was actually the best driver over the first 26 races (William Byron, for one, would like a word), he was the top seed going into the playoffs. In stick-and-ball terms, what he and his team just did was the equivalent of a No. 1 NBA or NHL team getting swept out in the first round.

It was the kind of fall-on-your-face performance that costs coaches and/or general managers their jobs in those sports. Whether wholesale changes are made for Truex’s team or within JGR in general remains to be seen, but there certainly needs to be some soul-searching.

As for the driver, who wavered for a while this year before committing to return in 2024, this can’t possibly sit well. Truex isn’t the type to sit around moping about anything, but he’s also not going to be the “rah-rah” cheerleader who rallies the troops. One thing he’s mastered, however, is perseverance, and he’s going to need that in abundance to bounce back in next year’s playoffs.

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I dunno about not having playoff points carry over, because then you get 2014 all over again, but there were two ideas I had to not make the regular season matter too much.
One was to halve the amount of playoff points each round is carried over (excluding ones earned in the current round). So if you started the playoffs with 36 an then earned an additional point in the round of 16, you would start round 2 with 18+1 points.
The other was your regular season playoff points are a total, and you can use them throughout the playoffs at any point. So say everyone starts each round with the same amount of points, but you had 36 from the regular season. If you finished 8 points below the cutoff in round 1, you could use 9 of your 36 points to get over the cutoff. The downside of this system is it becomes confusing af, but it’s better than having Truex basically go through the playoffs with essentially 108 playoff points instead of 36 or however many it was.


Isn’t it great that the new POINTS system is so much easier to understand than the Latford system? It was way too confusing for the “fans”. NA$CAR really got it right, didn’t they, just like all their decisions..


i understood the latford system a lot better than this mess, and i’m old.


You know you are old when you start saying “I remember when” and you’ve seen every Super Bowl. I guess us oldsters are better at math than the new “fans”.


Yes it is great that it’s so much easier to understand than the Latford system.

Bill B

I actually like your idea of halving the playoff points after each round, but on the other hand, the current system is better for making sure the guys with the best overall seasons have the highest probability of being champion. You can’t lose sight that half the playoff field are being gifted points that they never would have been able to make up.

If someone like Truex runs as badly as they did over the last 10 races, they would probably not have been champion under the old system either. You couldn’t just run like shit the last 10 races and maintain your leader status. Often the would be champion could phone it in the last 2 or 3 races, but never 10 races.


While all eyes were on Hamlin, & Truex, a funny thing happened, or maybe tragic, & funny depending on your POV.

With all the focus on these two, C Bell just slid right in, Hamlin & team had the execution, & momentum, while Truex & team didn’t have much of anything except a boat load of points garnered by winning the regular season, & in the end it wasn’t nearly enough.

Perhaps what was missing for them was Cole Pearn?

No question about Kyle Busch’s chops, but contrast him with Ryan Blaney, & we can see the difference with peaking too soon, vs doing it at exactly the right time.

I have a really hard time supporting anyone running for Gibbs, & I’m not a Hendrick hater, I can appreciate what they’ve done, but I’m ready for a new face behind the big trophy.

I was a big fan of Dave Blaney, & I think if he’d come up with a better team than the underfunded, Bill Davis, he could have as good a Cup career as Tony Stewart.

So, I’m all in With Ryan.


One thing to remember with Truex and that is one of the worst things that can happen to anyone, is losing your partner in life. Sherry Pollex passed away and no one can tell me different that it did not have an affect on Martin Truex Jr. during the playoffs.


i thought the same thing. even though they had split prior to the season starting, they had been together a very long time and went through so much together.


I hadn’t realized they had split up prior to the season. It wasn’t until I heard that she had passed away and the media was talking about it that I knew they weren’t together. A very difficult time for sure.


I’m glad Gibbs 2 top Toyotas missed the championship. Ironic, Truex never married his long time girlfriend and neither did Hack.

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