BRISTOL, Tenn. — After making a mad dash to get ready for qualifying during the first Sprint Cup practice session Friday, Martin Truex Jr. spent Saturday’s hourlong session getting his car ready to survive the Food City 500.
While qualifying was a sprint, Sunday’s race will be a marathon. Every part in the No. 56 Toyota, from the engine to the sway bar, will be tested over the course of 500 laps today. The challenge Saturday was the same one everyone else faces on the new multigroove racing surface — find a setup that can adapt to the countless bad situations that are sure to pop up in the race.
“There’s going to be a lot of traffic, and you’re going to be in positions you don’t really want to be in throughout the race,” Truex said. “If you have a car that drives good, is fairly comfortable where you can get to the outside, get to the bottom, get it to move around and have options when you get caught in traffic in spots where you really don’t want to be in, it will help.”
Back in race trim, Truex’s fastest lap was 15.897 seconds during final practice, the 21st-fastest lap of the session. To show just how close the competition was, his time was within a tenth of a second of Mark Martin’s No. 5 Chevrolet, the eighth-quickest car on the track.
Unfortunately, it was also within a tenth of a second of being 29th quickest, which illustrates the lack of margin for error at BMS. And if your car does take a turn for the worse, BMS is a miserable place to find yourself.
“There’s nowhere to go,” Truex said. “It’s so fast that if you’re off just a little bit, you lose a lot of time. It’s definitely miserable.”
Fortunately, there’s also an opportunity over 500 laps to get back into the mix thanks to the multiple grooves. The 56 team has been getting closer to making the car turn better through the corners, but it is still a work in progress. Truex is saddled with a 19th-place starting spot, but the new configuration at least offers a glimmer of hope.
“I think it’s taken a little bit of emphasis off of qualifying,” he said. “You’ve been able to make up for a bad pit stop, a bad pit stall or a bad qualifying run. We’ve done it. We’ve started from the back and come up. In the old Bristol, you couldn’t do that. It was almost impossible.
“That’s changed the strategy a little — it’s more forgiving, but still, you’ve got to get your car working and that’s tough to do here.”
To contend for a win, Truex knows everything will have to come together just right.
“You’ve got to have tires, you’ve got to have a fast car — you’ve got to do it all,” he said. “It’s so competitive here, if you’re off (just a little bit), you’re not going to have a chance to win. Hopefully, we’ll have a good enough car to do it.”