HOMESTEAD, Fla.—With 18 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup victories this season, Joe Gibbs Racing has already won at least half of the races in the entire 2019 season.
On Sunday, the Toyota juggernaut will attempt to break the 18-race record established by Hendrick Motorsports in 2007. Leading the charge is the latest addition to JGR, Martin Truex Jr., who has scored seven victories this year.
Truex is not only hoping to tie his personal record of eight wins in a season in the Ford EcoBoost 400, but the driver of the No. 19 Toyota is seeking his second Cup championship as well.
“Championships are huge,” Truex said. “I think it's harder to win now than ever. It would be amazing to win two. To have the opportunity again is huge. You just want to put your best foot forward and leave here knowing you gave it all you had, you didn't screw up, step on your foot, put your foot in your mouth or anything stupid.
“You just want to leave here knowing you gave it all you had, gave it the best you have, all you had—you can live with that. What it means, I don't know. I think a second championship would be indescribable right now for me.”
There’s not a driver in the Championship 4 on a more even keel than Truex. It takes a lot to rattle the 39-year-old Mayetta, New Jersey, native, who is enjoying his 14th season in Cup. Although the sport undeservedly awards youth, Truex didn’t evolve into one of NASCAR’s elite racers until he was aligned with crew chief Cole Pearn at Furniture Row Racing in 2015. Since then, it has been full speed ahead.
“In 2015, we still had those moments of we only won one race, probably should have won four, five, six,” Truex said. “We still had those things, had to work through them as a team.
“I guess the confidence came with just consistently beating the odds, able to come out on top more times than not. We kept getting better at it, more confident in our decisions. Being able to stay together as a group, our core group throughout those years, was a huge part of that. Just building confidence in one another, building up that résumé as you go.”
Since 2015, that resume includes 24 of his 26 career wins, 12 of his 19 poles, 69 of his 101 top fives,109 of his 204 top 10s and most important, the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Championship.
“A lot of the sport is about timing,” Truex said. “Certainly always been about people, having the right group surrounding you. I've been very lucky to have that. Since I got together with Cole, we hit it off, you know. We complement each other well. We work hard. We hold each other accountable. We have fun.
“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, some of those even terrible years. We just didn't have the whole package. We'd have a bad pit stop, something would happen all the time it seemed like where we'd make a bad adjustment or have a restart that didn't go the way we needed it to. Seemed like it was always something.
“But through that, I always knew I could do it. I could put cars out front, qualify on the pole, I could lead laps. Just we couldn't do everything all at the same time. Now just the team is amazing. We can do all that stuff consistently like clockwork. Yeah, never know when it's going to end. Keep it going.”
One supporter of Truex’s who would like to keep it going is team owner Joe Gibbs. Coach has been impressed with the duo of Truex and Pearn and their overall contribution to the organization.
“Having him come in with Cole has really meant a lot to our race team because what you're trying to do during the week is solve problems,” Gibbs said. “The four teams work together. What I love about our sport, then you go to the racetrack and you've got four individual efforts going after it, and that's hard to do, put all that together.
“But I think they've been a big part of what's happened this year, and they've added a lot.”
Gibbs never has to worry about Truex’s behavior in or out of the race car. The driver brings a sense of normalcy to an organization that includes the mercurial Kyle Busch and the sometimes unpredictable—at least from a performance standpoint—Denny Hamlin, both of whom Truex will battle against for the 2019 title.
“Martin had gone for a long time in his career, didn't have a lot of wins, and now over these last three years, four years, he's such an easy person to work with,” Gibbs said. “He's heavily engaged, and I think super competitive. Between him and Cole, I think they've got a great relationship going, and I think they're awful good.
“You can't shake him up. Drivers have different personalities. Some of them get out of the car and you can read them, extremely upset, all the things—that Martin, in our meetings, very calculated, smart. So I've got a lot of respect for him, and I think he's got a long way to go in his career, too. I really do. I think he's going to be around for a long time. He's going to be winning races.”