Martin Truex Jr. enters the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, Nov. 17, with a chance to do something rare — win a second title in three years.
Truex won his first championship in 2017, and his seven wins this season have him set up to repeat.
“I still have a hard time believing I’ve already got one, let alone here we are a really, really good chance at a second,” Truex said. “I can’t even imagine the names on the list I’d be on with a second. It blows my mind.
“I think a second championship would be indescribable right now for me.”
The biggest difference between this title run and the one two years ago is that Truex is with a completely different race team now. The 2017 title came with Barney Visser’s Furniture Row Racing, based in Denver, Colorado. The team closed down at the end of 2018, and despite the setback, Truex still managed to finish runner-up in the standings last year.
This year, Truex, Crew Chief Cole Pearn and many others from Visser’s team joined Joe Gibbs Racing, who FRR previously had a technical alliance with. The pairing went off without a hitch, with Truex winning in just his ninth start in the JGR No. 19.
“It’s been amazing,” Truex said about the move to Gibbs. “Honestly, the biggest thing that’s surprised me was just how damn hard that guy [Joe Gibbs] works. I mean he just does not stop. He doesn’t have a dealership or he doesn’t golf, he doesn’t hunt, he doesn’t fish. He races. If he’s not in that shop, he’s on a plane going somewhere to meet a sponsor or he’s doing something for the race team … The guy is relentless, and leading by that example, that’s what the team is built around. That’s their strategy: They’re relentless.
“Our guys from Denver fit right in with that because that’s Cole [Pearn] to the tee.”
To get this second title, Truex has to beat out a pretty tough cast of characters: Kevin Harvick and JGR teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin. Two of the three are Cup champions, and all three have been dominant drivers throughout their careers, compared to Truex, who only won three races in his first 10 years in the Cup Series.
“If you look at our careers, I went to the school of hard knocks so to speak, compared to my competition, I would say,” Truex said. “They’ve all had great careers, won a lot of races their whole career. There’s not years where they thought they were done or losing their job or didn’t win races. I’ve been through all that stuff and learned how to deal with those things a little better.”
As for racing his teammates for the title, Truex maintains this week is no different than the others.
“It’s still a race, just like last week was a race,” Truex said. “You want to be the best. Everybody wants to win. It’s not like we show up to the track and we all have the same car and the same driver and the same thought process and the same driving style … It’s really like last week, only there’s a lot more on the line.”
Based on the way the Championship 4 have raced each other in the past and JGR taking up 75% of the spots, Homestead should consist of fairly clean racing. But don’t expect them to give each other any breaks.
“We’ve seen teammates get into tussles before right.” Truex said. “You just take into account who the guy is and try to think about what he would do and do the same … I know in ’17, Kyle [Busch] was behind me and was faster, probably could have ran into me if he wanted to. He didn’t … He was trying to put pressure on me, trying to get me to mess up, but he didn’t run into me. He probably could have. If it was Joey Logano, he would have run into him. So if Kyle Busch leading and I’m second, I’m going to do all I can to pass him, but I’m not going to run into him.
Truex values his relationships with his teammates and likely wouldn’t do anything to tarnish the respect between them.
“I think we get along well,” Truex said. “We’re not really friends, good friends. We don’t hang out. We don’t do stuff away from the track together. But I think the mutual respect is something that really stands out to me. We’ve raced together for a long time against each other — a long, long time. You learn to respect guys like that.”
Regardless of if he wins the title on Sunday or not, Truex is appreciative of the opportunity given how shaky the start of his career was.
“I definitely don’t take this for granted,” Truex said. “I love this opportunity, I’m having the time of my life for this team.
“I just feel lucky, honestly. I had some years where I felt like I was a winning driver. We were in position to win multiple races in some of even those terrible years. We just didn’t have the whole package … it was always something. But through all that, I still felt like I could do it.
“Now, the team’s so good, we can do all that stuff like clockwork. You never know when it’s going to end, so I’m trying to keep it going.”
The biggest improvement for Truex and Pearn this year is their performances at short tracks. Prior to 2019, the duo had never won a short track race. This year, they swept Richmond Raceway and won the fall Martinsville Speedway race to get into the Championship 4.
“I think being able to go everywhere and feel like you can win is something to a driver that is very gratifying,” Truex said. “For me personally, to win Richmond, finally, after so many close calls and should’ve won a bunch of them. It felt good to get that monkey off of our back.
“But to win Martinsville was really huge for me personally, because early in my career, it was a tough track. I dreaded going there the first couple times … So to check that box was pretty sweet.”
Truex credits Visser as being the game-changer in his career, as he won his title and 17 of his 26 career wins in the No. 78. And Truex is still Visser’s favorite driver.
“He watches every week, pulls for us, texts me or calls us all the time,” Truex said about his former team owner. “He gets really excited when we do good still,” Truex said.
Truex may be the favorite going into this weekend. But even if he doesn’t win, it won’t be from a lack of effort.
“You just want to leave here knowing you gave it everything you had, you gave it the best you had and all you had and you can live with that,” Truex said.