The Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who finished second in 2018 with Furniture Row Racing and again in 2019 with JGR, led for 72 laps on Sunday and hit the front in stage three after undercutting his title rivals at what should have been the final stop of the race and cycling him back to the front.
He appeared to be heading towards his second championship, after his 2017 breakthrough season, when a debris caution prompted everyone to return to the pits – where Larson seized the initiative.
Truex spent the remainder of the race hunting Larson, and although he remained close was never able to get past as Larson earned his first Cup Series title, and the second in a row for Hendrick Motorsports after Chase Elliott’s 2020 crown.
“Ultimately we needed to beat him off pit road,” surmised Truex.
“It’s unfortunate, but we win and lose as a team. And really proud of our efforts this year.
“That’s three times we’ve been second, and that sucks. Second hurts I’m not going to lie, especially with the car we had and the job the guys did.
“That’s racing, as they say, and sometimes you’re just not on the right end of things. We were on the right end to things to get the lead there and weren’t able to hold on to it.
“If we could have had the lead, I think it would have been over, but that’s kind of how the #5 [Larson] did it, too. So they had a hell of a season and congrats to them.”
Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro HendrickCars.com, Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry Bass Pro Shops
Photo by: Michael L. Levitt / Motorsport Images
Hamlin could do “nothing else”
Truex’s fellow title-chaser and team-mate Denny Hamlin finished third, once again coming up short in his quest for a first Cup title.
The 40-year-old, who looked strong in his pursuit of Truex until the caution that handed Larson the initiative, said there was “nothing else I could have done” to get on terms with the leading pair.
It was the third consecutive season he’s advanced to the championship-deciding race and failed to win the title, having finished fourth in 2019 and 2020.
“I have to live with the result because I can’t change it. Disappointed, absolutely, for sure. But I knew kind of going into today I was going to need the race to go a certain way,” Hamlin said.
“If it goes the way it did last year, it goes green out (to the finish), we’re probably winning. But it didn’t. We knew that our percentage was low, and that was the case.
“Many of these races come down to green-white checkers or shootouts at the end, and that just wasn’t our strength and hasn’t been ever.”
The Cup Series’ move to a new Dallara-built car next season also puts all drivers – young or old – in a situation of starting over, and Hamlin said the defeat stung more having “really put so much emphasis” on trying to win the final title for the outgoing Gen-6 machines.
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“This is the last generation of this car that I took a very good liking to over the last three years,” Hamlin said.
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota Camry FedEx Express
Photo by: Ben Earp / NKP / Motorsport Images
“We don’t know what the Next Gen car brings. We don’t know will our team be as good. There’s just many, many question marks what happens after this.
“That’s why we really put so much emphasis on let’s try to win this, win this this year.
“But honestly, there’s just nothing else I could have done. There’s nothing else. I drove as hard as I could every lap.
“I didn’t have the speed for the first 20 [laps]. It was evident in a lot of the restarts we had. I think we actually overachieved in quite a few.”