It’s déjà vu all over again.
Martin Truex, Jr. is no stranger to adversity. He spent his formative years in the Sprint Cup in the now defunct Dale Earnhardt, Inc., winning only once while seeing teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr., assumed heir to the team, jump to Hendrick Motorsports instead. Then, Truex moved to Michael Waltrip Racing, taking three and half years to find Victory Lane again. One Chase bid turned into two in 2013, but when it was discovered Truex qualified for the playoffs the second time with a little help from his friends, he was booted.
His sponsor left. His girlfriend got cancer. He lost his ride. He moved to a b-list team. He struggled mightily.
But Truex, like our neighbors across the pond, kept mostly calm and carried on. He knew things would get better in time, that the law of averages would work out in his favor. Things slowly started to turn around.
After an abysmal 2014 season which saw Truex finish 24th in points – the worst year of his career – something clicked in 2015. He started the season out with 14 top-10 finishes through the first 15 races. He sat second in points from late spring to early summer. And he returned to Victory Lane at Pocono Raceway, the most popular win of the season up to that point.
He finished the season fourth in points, a bridesmaid in the championship battle but still among the final four at Homestead.
And then, a few months later, his girlfriend announced she was cancer-free.
Things turned around for Truex, certainly, but the struggles still come for the driver. Take last May, for example. Truex led 95 laps at Kansas Speedway, only to find himself ninth at the end of the day after a late-race pit stop dropped him from second to fifth. Two weeks later at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he led 131 of 400 laps of the Coca-Cola 600, but fuel mileage gambles by others got the better of him.
At Dover International Speedway the next week, the site of his first-career win, Truex looked like he’d pick up a second victory at the Delaware track. He again led 131 laps but saw the win slip away in the late stages of the race.
It was the next week that Pocono arrived, and Truex finally broke through, leading well over half the race and winning. The fact that it came just days into the month of June was not lost by those statisticians in the sport, who noted that his previous two wins both came in June as well. And when Truex didn’t win the rest of the season, it led many to wonder whether Truex could win in any other month.
He’s certainly capable enough to do so, and Furniture Row Racing is stronger than ever in 2016 thanks to an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota. But following the GoBowling.com 400 at Kansas last weekend, one has to wonder whether or not Truex is poised to repeat his May strength and struggles of 2015. He again led the most laps at Kansas – 172 – but a loose wheel late in the race relegated him to a 14th-place finish.
“It sucks. I don’t know what you want me to say,” Truex said after the race. “It’s not fun to lead all those laps and come up 14th. I wish the race was longer. We were hunting them down quick at the end.”
The good news is that Truex is quick, and that, for the superstitious, May is nearly halfway over. If for some reason Truex repeats his performance of last year and doesn’t win in the next couple of weeks, it wouldn’t be the worst thing; June is just around the corner, and the motivation that stems from losing races will only fuel a fire hotter than the summer sun. Losing trophies isn’t any fun, but the silver lining is that wins do come to those who consistently battle for top 5s, and Truex does just that. He will win this season; smart money’s on June, but that breakthrough could realistically come anywhere. He’s been fast at the mile-and-a-halves. He’s won before on a road course. He’s stout on concrete.
Losing isn’t any fun, but Truex has shown the poise and patience to overcome the issues. He won’t roll over and take it — he’ll fight like he always has, and, sometime soon, that No. 78 will be in Victory Lane again.
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