Martin Truex Jr.’s season of roller coaster emotions might just be getting started, even while the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads into the last of 36 races.
The sentiment around the No. 78 camp is as high as ever. Pressure is on, and Truex is riding high entering Homestead-Miami Speedway for the Championship 4 duel. Vegas Insider, as of Thursday afternoon, lists Truex as a 9/4 odds-on favorite to take home the first championship trophy with the new logo of NASCAR’s premier division slapped on it.
“We’ve been waiting Homestead since this weekend in 2015,” Truex said at the Championship 4 media day. “Since that race was over, we’ve been working to get back here and have another shot at it.”
That shot can’t point anymore in Truex’s direction than it is now.
The No. 78 team is as hot as it gets, leading the Cup Series with seven wins, including three in the playoffs at Chicagoland Speedway, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway. With four straight top-three results entering the Ford EcoBoost 400, he is ready for the championship race.
“All the way back to Las Vegas, to win a race early in the season was a huge deal for us,” he said. “We never won early in the season before, so we were able to get that out of the way and push for wins from there. Charlotte was another one for me that showed we’re ready for a championship run.”
Truex sites that Charlotte race as a major one in his road to Miami. He struggled to run in the top 10, but as he put it, “it was huge for all of our confidence.”
Not only is Truex thinking highly of himself entering the weekend, but his competition is doing the same. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch pointed to Truex’s crew chief, Cole Pearn, who is at the center of Furniture Row Racing’s success.
“Cole and Martin were in the situation in 2015, along with us,” Busch said. “They quite didn’t show the raw speed obviously in that season that they have now. That set them back a little bit in that year. Cole was not scared to make some calls. He’s not scared in those situations to be aggressive and to try to see if a call might not pan out.”
Now, the pressure is on. Truex will need to beat Busch, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick as the four duke it out for the championship this weekend. The stage is the same, but the circumstances are different.
Truex leads the sport in every major category, spanning top fives (18), top 10s (25), laps led (2,175), average start (6.9) and average finish (9.7). The success on-track, however, does not mean everything is all good away from it.
Barney Visser, owner of Furniture Row Racing, is recovering from a heart attack. He will not be at the racetrack this weekend, potentially watching his driver and the team he’s thrown millions of dollars at win a championship from his Denver home.
“I don’t even know if I can comprehend that right now,” Truex said, taking a pause before responding to a question about what a championship would mean to him. “I’ve made it farther in racing than I ever thought possible. This season has been an incredible ride.”
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That ride culminates at Homestead, where Truex looks to bring the organization its first title. In doing so, it would complete the unthinkable task that Visser set out to conquer: win a championship with a race team located anywhere other than Charlotte, the hub for NASCAR squads.
The journey to Homestead again is a familiar one for Truex. He’s been down this road before.
This time, though, his team is geared up for the championship. He knows. His team knows it. Most of all, the competition knows it.
“I’ve tried — along the way — to slow down and just enjoy each win and the accomplishments,” Truex said. “It’s hard not to think of the championship and just see the names who have won. Just to be part of that group would be something special.”
Words will not be able to describe the feeling Truex has should he take home the new, silver championship trophy, which features all 23 tracks on the NASCAR circuit. Instead, the raw emotion we’ve seen time and time again will do justice.
The table is set. Truex is going all-in with his deck. It might not seem like a gamble, but you never know what can happen.
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