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2021 NASCAR Preseason Power Rankings, No. 7: Martin Truex Jr.

Martin Truex Jr. started the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season hopeful after back-to-back runner-up finishes in the championship standings, preceded by winning the 2017 Cup championship.

But with new crew chief James Small atop the No. 19 pit box, Truex didn’t perform as well in the COVID-19-affected 2020 season. He won at Martinsville Speedway but led his fewest number of laps since 2015.

Ultimately, the driver of the No. 19 Toyota finished seventh in the championship standings, his lowest finish since 2016.

A Look Back

Truex struggled slightly at the beginning of the 2020 season. In the first four races of the season, he endured two DNFs and failed to record a top-10 finish. Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck and NASCAR entered its hiatus.

Once the sport returned to racing, Truex reeled off four straight top 10s. Even though he finished 20th in the first race at Bristol Motor Speedway, he sat in sixth place in the championship standings.

In the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, Truex won both stages and led 65 laps – second-highest of the day — en route to a third-place finish. He entered the first night race at Martinsville Speedeway brimming with confidence.

Truex backed up his confidence with a dominant run to the finish at Martinsville, leading the final 131 laps to earn his second-straight victory at the half-mile short track. It was the first win for crew chief Small.

While the Mayetta, N.J., native achieved 14 top fives and 23 top 10s, he only finished second in four more races and failed to reach victory lane again. His lone victory last year was the first time since 2014 that Truex did not win more than two races.

Promising Venues

The record amount of Cup road course races bodes well for Truex. He also will be glad to return to both Watkins Glen International and Sonoma Raceway, as he has a combined four wins at those two tracks. In his 32 Cup road course starts, he has four wins, 11 top fives and 17 top 10s. He easily could have another road course victory as he led coming to the checkered flag in the inaugural Cup race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL before contact with Jimmie Johnson ended his shot at the win.

When the Cup Series races for the first time at Nashville Superspeedway, Truex already has experience at the 1.333-mile track. In five Xfinity Series starts there, he has two top fives, including a second-place finish, two top 10s, two poles and 145 laps led. His 1,125 completed laps there will serve him well in the Ally 400 this year.

Truex has emerged as a short track wheelman, with two wins at Martinsville and Richmond Raceway. He finished 22nd in the penultimate race of last year at Martinsville, but he led 129 laps before a loose wheel forced him to pit road, thereby ending his quest to make the Championship 4 for the third straight year.

Another track where Truex will be a contender is Darlington Raceway. The track dubbed “Too Tough to Tame” gained a second race on the Cup schedule, and it greatly benefits Truex; he has one win, two top fives and 17 top 10s there. Moreover, he has led laps in five of the last seven Cup races there, so he has become a force with which to be reckoned.

He led the most laps in the most recent race there too, the 2020 Cook Out Southern 500, including capturing both stages. However, contact with Chase Elliott with less than 20 laps to go in the historic race forced him to pit road. He eventually finished one lap down in 22nd place, not indicative of the speed in his No. 19. Truex accepted full responsibility for the incident, which also ended Elliott’s bid for the victory.

2021 Scenarios

Truex enters his third season driving for Joe Gibbs Racing. The team won the 2019 Cup championship with Kyle Busch and Truex finishing second. Last year, Denny Hamlin won seven races en route to a fourth-place finish in the championship standings. Three JGR drivers both made the playoffs and won last year. This is a championship-winning organization.

This year also brings a fresh paint scheme to Truex’s No. 19.

Truex is a near-certain lock to make the playoffs. With the playoff schedule, he should advance to the Round of 8, especially if he wins more races this year. He could make the Championship 4 as he has victories at two of the three Round of 8 courses, and he has 17 top 10s in 31 starts at Texas despite never winning there.

If he makes the Championship 4, he would need improvement at Phoenix Raceway. In 30 starts there, he only has four top fives and 12 top 10s. He only has led 123 laps there, and all champions last year won their respective series season finales at Phoenix Raceway.

While he is a veteran, Truex has a new spotter, Drew Herring, this year. Herring is a former NASCAR competitor himself, with 24 starts across the main three NASCAR series.

Outlook

Since 2015, Truex has scored 25 of his 27 Cup victories, including yearly making the playoffs. He will turn 41 years old on June 29. He wants another Cup championship, especially to celebrate with his longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex, who recently began treatment for her second bout with cancer.

Truex is a talented driver, with second-year crew chief Small, new spotter Herring and powerhouse Toyota team JGR. Anything less than taking home the championship trophy at Phoenix Raceway would likely leave him disappointed.

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