So when he saw a caution flag raised with five laps left in Sunday's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, Truex realized that he suddenly had a chance to claim one of the biggest victories of his 12-year career in the series.
Go to NBCSports.com now to download the free app and watch the live NASCAR video stream of today's race online. His absence opened a spot in the field that wasn't there in 2015 and removed a potential title contending team from consideration, but perhaps even more important, it means the postseason will carry on without its most noteworthy name. I don't have any regrets about what I said.
Then, when time was running out, another shredded tire came to the rescue.
Joey Logano finished second while Elliott, non-Chase competitor Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski rounded out the top five. "I wish a couple more cars stayed out". It happens. You've just got to embrace it and move on. He finished third while Logano was second and Blaney was fourth.
"I expected it", said Elliott, who led for 75 laps. 1 in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series and a sure-fire ticket into the next round of eliminations, perhaps? The 22-year-old South Korean sank a hard 10-foot putt to finish at 21-under, breaking the record for men and women of 20 co-held by Henrik Stenson and Jason Day. "I said, 'We just a long way, we get tires". We know these races don't go green that long, typically. We know that we see late-race cautions way more often than not. His pit stall was located near turn 4 in that race and he was on pit road while a crash happened on track.
But Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott certainly showed up with the team's famous speed once again, combining to lead 193 of 270 laps.
"Very, very proud of the effort, just so bummed", Johnson said after using three expletives in frustration. "I think the only way to get through those type of things is to have experience with it and kind of learn how to deal with it and understand that, 'Hey, this isn't the end of the world, we can overcome it'". Plus it has been NASCAR's policy in the past not to take away wins after post-race inspection issues. But Johnson appeared to be in good shape before the penalty on pit road, drawing a "no way!" from the driver on his radio when he was told of the punishment. Only once before, in 2011, has Johnson won as few as two races in a season. Harvick wound up going a lap down.
Football coaches at a Seattle high school joined their players in taking a knee during the national anthem, following the lead of Kaepernick to protest social injustice. The decision to follow Elliott for new tires resulted in a great pit, which positioned him well for the decisive restart. In what Truex described as "crazy bad luck", a lug nut coming off the old set of tires bounced off the pavement and into one of the wheel holes of a new tire. Elliott restarted fifth-on the inside of the third row-and was able to climb to only third at the checkers. With 10 top-10 finishes through 26 races, Johnson will have to finish in the top 10 in each of the Chase races just to match his lowest career total of 20 in a season (2003 and 2014). He said selecting a favorite among Toyota Chase drivers would be tough.
Denny Hamlin enters the Chase with momentum, Kyle Busch enters as the defending champion, making them both strong fantasy racing picks. Alex Bowman was in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at Chicagoland Speedway, as he and Jeff Gordon continue to share the seat as substitute drivers for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who remains sidelined by a concussion.
Newman had tough words for Stewart after the two wrecked last Saturday night in a race that Newman needed to perform well in if he was to qualify for the Chase, which begins Sunday at Chicagoland.
Camrys also have run out front for more than half of the laps. The only other driver who has four top-tens is Kyle Busch. The victor of the opening round of the playoffs has gone on to win the Cup title, most recently Brad Keselowski in 2012.