Beleaguered Truex notches Top-10 at New Hampshire

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It would’ve made for a strange, surreal scene in Victory Lane at New Hampshire Motor Speedway had Martin Truex Jr.’s car not gone away from him in the final stages of today’s Sylvania 300.

Truex and his entire No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing squad are staring at an uncertain future beyond the conclusion of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series campaign thanks to the departure of main sponsor NAPA Auto Parts.

For all of them, that blow hurts just as much, if not more so, than Truex getting knocked out of the Chase for the Sprint Cup following NASCAR’s penalties against MWR for manipulating the Sept. 7 event at Richmond International Raceway.

So to see Truex run as strong as he did for much of the race this afternoon must have pleased those that believe he has been the “victim” in one of NASCAR’s most controversial sagas to date.

Truex was especially quick in the first half of the running, leading 98 laps in the early going. He would lose the lead to eventual winner Matt Kenseth at Lap 153, but was able to stay in the Top 5 as the race’s conclusion drew closer.

Unfortunately for Truex, his Toyota’s already tight condition worsened as clouds began to blanket NHMS for the end of what had been a sunny affair. He took the final restart of the day in fifth position, but was unable to hang on and began sliding back.

“It’s unfortunate,” Truex said to ESPN after the race. “The guys did a good job all weekend. We’ve really struggled here the past few times and obviously, we have made some huge gains in the right direction. It’s just that we weren’t good enough at the end when it counted.”

Still, Truex and the No. 56 team certainly let ’em know they were there and in the mix this afternoon at New Hampshire. It may only be a momentary relief from the controversy that has plagued them in the last two weeks, but it was something good.

And after all the chaos they’ve had to endure, they’ll take it and move on to Dover next weekend.

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.