Racing through pain at Atlanta, tough Truex takes third

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Despite a broken right wrist hampering him at every turn – a situation that wasn’t helped any further by his cast apparently coming apart during the race – Martin Truex, Jr. was still in the mix for a win last night at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Truex made it happen with a superb late charge after having to make an extra pit stop under caution at Lap 210 for a lug nut issue on his car. He dropped back to 18th, but charged through the field and briefly fought eventual winner Kyle Busch for the lead off a restart with 21 laps to go.

Busch eventually won the battle on the high line, and Truex fell to third in the closing laps as he was unable to hold off Joey Logano for the runner-up spot.

“Going to the rear with 100 [laps] to go was a pretty large kick in the pants and we just had to fight hard to get back to the front,” said Truex. “I was surprised we made it there. I really didn’t think we could. The car wasn’t very good at that point.

“[Crew chief] Chad [Johnston] made a few adjustments to it and we just kept our head down and kept digging and had some good restarts and was able to make it up there — just didn’t have quite enough at the end to get by Kyle.”

Nonetheless, Truex gave himself a chance to earn the second and final Wild Card in the Chase for the Sprint Cup this coming Saturday at Richmond International Raceway.

With the final regular season race looming, Truex sits 15 points out of the Top 10, and five points ahead of Ryan Newman in the battle for that aforementioned Wild Card.

Newman’s fifth-place run on Sunday will keep the pressure on Truex as the scene shifts to the Richmond bullring. One wonders if Truex will be sporting a more durable cast for the occasion considering what happened to the one he had at Atlanta.

“The cast just inside my hand here got all soft,” said Truex, who mentioned that the pain he had in his broken wrist while steering felt as if “somebody was hitting it with a hammer.”

“[Atlanta] is probably one of the hardest tracks to drive on as far as how much you turn the wheel, how many times you’re catching the car,” he continued. “…This is a tough place, and I don’t think Richmond will be quite as hard on it, so we’ll just see.

“I think, maybe it’s just gotten wet from sweat or something and softened up, so we’ll have to look into that.”

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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