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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Martin Truex, Jr.’s “best shot ever” to win the Daytona 500 ended with his worst finish ever at NASCAR’s most famous track.
Truex’s engine blew after 30 laps Sunday, making him the first driver out and guaranteeing him a last-place finish.
Truex earned the outside pole for “The Great American Race” in the No. 78 Chevrolet, but had to start in the back of the field after wrecking in a qualifying race Thursday night.
He was on the move and running 15th when his car started smoking. Preliminary assessments indicate the oil pump belt came off.
“Definitely a shame and definitely a tough break for this team,” he said.
Truex had been considered a strong contender for the season opener after he posted the second-fastest time in pole qualifying last Sunday.
It came in his debut race with Furniture Row Racing, the Denver-based team he signed with after his season suddenly unraveled because of a cheating scandal involving Michael Waltrip Racing last September.
NASCAR replaced Truex in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field with Ryan Newman last year as part of MWR’s punishment for manipulating the finish at Richmond to get Truex into the Chase. It eventually led sponsor NAPA to leave MWR, which cost Truex his ride.
Furniture Row was a good landing spot considering Kurt Busch helped the organization become the first single-car team to make the Chase last season.
With Truex’s qualifying run, it looked as if the team would carry that momentum into 2014.
But things turned Thursday night. Six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson ran out of gas on the final lap, got spun by Jamie McMurray and started a seven-car accident that took out several top cars. Truex was among them.
The team worked feverishly to get Truex’s backup car ready, but never got it on track Friday. Truex turned 13 laps in final practice Saturday and posted the fifth-fastest lap of the session.
They were equally strong Sunday — until the engine went.
“The car was super-fast today, and I went to bed last night thinking that this was my best shot ever to win the Daytona 500 and really felt that way — even today,” Truex said.
“The car was just so good and we were just riding around and biding our time, you know, being patient and trying to get to the end of this thing. Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be.
“They built us a great race car. I guess the only good news is that we have a car in one piece to race next time because it’s pretty darn good.”