NASCAR: No. 1 seed in serious jeopardy after Kansas

Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing, Kansas Speedway, NASCAR (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing, Kansas Speedway, NASCAR (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

Following the round of 16 race at Kansas Speedway, Martin Truex Jr. finds himself below the cut line, despite having started the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs in the points lead.

Thanks to the penalty issued to Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron in April, which cost him five playoff points initially and another two based on where he finished vs. where he would have finished in the regular season point standings, nobody entered the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs with more playoff points than Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr.

Truex won three races in the regular season, netting him five playoff points each, and added six stage wins for another six. He also won the regular season points title for the first time since his championship-winning 2017 season, which secured him another 15 playoff points before the postseason.

The success of Truex and Byron, coupled with Byron’s penalty, led to the playoffs beginning with both drivers tied atop the standings with 2,036 points each.

But two races into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, the regular season champion finds himself below the cut line with just one race left in the round of 16.

Truex has managed just 20 points in the first two playoff races at Darlington Raceway at Kansas Speedway. He was never a factor at the former and was actually fortunate to come away with 19 points and an 18th place finish. Then at the latter, an early flat tire resulted in a crash and subsequent one-point 36th place finish.

The driver of the No. 19 Toyota has plummeted from the points lead to 13th place in the point standings, where he sits ahead of only 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace, JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell, among playoff drivers.

His tumble has been the surprise of the playoffs so far, and a first round exit for a regular season champion would be the first of its kind in year number 10 of this particular playoff format.

And it might well happen.

In a matter of two races, Truex has gone from looking like a round of 12 lock to being in a position where it will actually be a challenge for him just to advance out of the first round.

Truex’s history at Bristol Motor Speedway, the site of Saturday night’s round of 16 finale, is, in one word, miserable. He is winless in 32 starts there in non-dirt races, and he has just four top 10 finishes to speak of.

His average finish at the four-turn, 0.533-mile (0.858-kilometer) high-banked Bristol, Tennessee oval is 20.8, which is better than only his average finishes at Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway among active tracks where he has made more than one start.

Truex sits seven points behind Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick for the 12th and final round of 12 spot. The good thing for him is that there are several drivers who are just a few points ahead of Harvick, including RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher (+13), Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell (+13), and Team Penske’s Joey Logano (+12).

All Truex needs to do is pass one driver without being passed by one of the three below him. Among those below him, Wallace is closest at 12 points behind. Stenhouse is three points behind Wallace, while McDowell is 18 points behind Stenhouse and likely in a must-win position.

Next. All-time NASCAR Cup Series wins list. dark

Saturday night’s race, the Bass Pro Shops Night Race, is set to be broadcast live on USA Network from Bristol Motor Speedway beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET. Start a free trial of FuboTV now and don’t miss it!