What about that Martin Truex Jr.? I know the points don’t mean anything when we’re lining up the awards ceremony at the end of the year, but after seven races he’s looking mighty stout with all those top 10 finishes and running behind only Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano in the standings. We’ve run on the superspeedways, a couple cookie cutters and short tracks. Truex’ No. 78 has performed remarkably well at all of them. And yet, are you really considering him for a run at the Cup? Despite the buzz that the auto racing media is trying to build for the New Jersey native, the general consensus is no, the Furniture Row machine will not beat everybody else to the finish.
There does seem to be a disconnect here between performance and perception. Why wouldn’t the congenial, if a little forgettable Truex Jr. not be in our thoughts? He’s doing everything he can to put his tiny team up front with the big boys. Well, not all the way upfront. He has only logged 32 laps led for 2015, but the rest of his program is right on the money.
Okay, what about camera time? Has he at least garnered national attention with his persistently great track appearances? Well, back when he drove for NAPA and MWR, I would see him lip-syncing some Know How. But his Furniture Row sponsor doesn’t go in for flooding FoxSports with Martin’s scruffy face. No extra screen time.
Can you pick his car out on track? That poses another problem. It’s brown. Just plain brown running on a gray surface. Even if it is the only brown car out there, it’s not exactly neon green. Neither is its driver decked out in a fluorescent fire suit.
Does he do a great interview? I think he took lessons from Matt Kenseth. When you are in the room with Truex, he’s a charming individual. He chuckles and brings an honesty to the interview that you can relate to as a person. This earthiness doesn’t always translate on pit road with a camera in his face. Many times we get canned answers and forgettable responses when he’s about to climb into his car.
I’m beginning to think that Truex could do backflips off his car window and we’d still not notice the unique feat. Is it this nearly invisible physical presence that helps NASCAR Nation to dismiss Martin’s truly stellar talent?
This is a sizeable list of reasons we don’t truly see Truex for everything he clearly is. The problem is obviously ours, not his. However, if we don’t acknowledge him soon, his no-longer fledgling career is approaching the line of no-return. True anonymity is so easy to accomplish without the right backing.
When you can take a small team and make the car fly through the juggernaut of Penske, Hendrick and SHR, you’ve undeniably got the chops needed to take it all the way to the top. The No. 78 has got the engines in place. There’s a major racing stable in RCR lending support. And Truex has hoisted a trophy over his head a couple times in the Sprint Cup Series. He was poised to take his NAPA machine to the next level when MWR decided to make poor decisions during the 2013 Chase and disillusioned the sport of NASCAR. Truex has everything you need to make the leap to the head table in Vegas.
Except the fans’ support. That’s right. There’s always an elusive part of the equation when a team is riding high toward the end of the season. Call it momentum, determination, a crazy streak of luck…but the positive energy that follows a team to the top is palpable. It can be felt in the garage area. The grandstands groan under the weight of fans sharing their excitement with the next possible champion. When Martin Truex takes the stage during driver introductions, it’s more like crickets on a soft summer night.
So, now it’s our turn. Let’s give that mighty underdog all the encouragement it needs to overthrow the dynastic choke hold that has driven NASCAR for the past eight of nine seasons. Truex has waited a long time to come into his own. He has proven he’s worthy of all possible accolades on the track, now we’ve got reward him before he gets behind that wheel, all so he is motivated to grasp the golden ring at the end of the year.
2002 Sharpie 500
Before they destroyed Bristol and built it up again, it was the meanest track on the planet. If you didn’t bring your biggest set of balls, you were gonna get run over. Some drivers built their reputations at the massive coliseum—willing to eat the poor little drivers who were generally safe at most other tracks. Jeff Gordon was often perceived in his early years as a driver not entirely willing to get into the mud pit. But on this particular day in Bristol, TN Gordon proved them all wrong, and ticked off Rusty Wallace while he did it. Good times. Good times.
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