By Dustin Albino

Martin Truex Jr. is experiencing an opening round to forget in this year’s NASCAR Playoffs. Never has a regular season champion missed the Round of 12, but Truex is coming dangerously close to becoming the first to do so. 

It took three laps for Truex to see his season’s work potentially fold in front of him at Kansas Speedway. From the drop of the green flag, the No. 19 Toyota faded and ultimately lost control entering Turn 3 while running in 17th. The cause was a puncture in the right-rear tire. 

Martin Truex Jr. HITS THE WALL!

The regular season champion is in #NASCARPlayoffs trouble early.

— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) September 10, 2023

With a broken control arm, Truex was towed to the garage. He tallied one point at Kansas. 

“Just unfortunate and very unlucky,” Truex said from the infield care center. “I took off really tight and I knew something was up, and then cut a right rear. Not really sure what happened, obviously, but it blew in the worst place possible. I hate it for my guys. We had an awesome Bass Pro Toyota Camry. We were going to have a great day, just not sure what we need to do to get some luck here.”

Truex felt like his right-rear tire was soft. Should it blow, he was hoping it would do so down a straightaway so he would have time to slow down and not hit the wall. That’s not what happened.

“In hindsight, I guess I should have just pitted, but at that point in time, you just don‘t know if the car is just really tight or what‘s going on,” Truex added. “It‘s a real shame. I hate it for my team. I can‘t imagine being this unlucky.”

Nine other playoff drivers experienced issues throughout the next 397 miles of the race (the race went one lap into overtime). The only other catastrophic incident was for Bubba Wallace, who blew a right-rear tire on lap 108 while running second. Wallace finished four laps down in 32nd. Chris Buescher also had a right-rear tire expire with seven laps remaining, setting up the overtime restart. 

With an 18th-place finish at Darlington, Truex has an average finish of 27th through the first two races of the postseason. He enters the elimination race at Bristol Motor Speedway 13th on the playoff grid, seven points below 2014 Cup champion Kevin Harvick. Entering last week‘s Southern 500, he had a 29-point buffer on 13th.

“There is not a thing we can do about it right now,” Truex said of his points situation. 

In 32 starts at Bristol, Truex has just four top-10 results, with the most recent coming in 2021. The last time he cracked the top five in the final rundown was while driving the No. 56 car for Michael Waltrip Racing in 2012. 

Since the current points format was introduced in 2014, the earliest a regular season champion was eliminated from the playoffs was the Round of 8.

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