NASHVILLE—Martin Truex Jr. still hasn’t recovered from the devastating mistake on pit road that likely cost him the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway last month.
After moving to Joe Gibbs Racing this year, Truex was optimistic he could stay the course as a title contender. And he was—right until the No. 19 pit crew put the front tires on the wrong sides of the car midway through the Ford EcoBoost 400.
Truex lost the lead, the race and ultimately the championship.
“I’ll tell you when I’m over it—because I’m not yet,” Truex said on Wednesday. “You work all year long to put yourself in that position, and when it doesn’t turn out the way you had hoped, it’s tough. A lot of people put a lot of effort into it and it’s just not something that goes away. It takes time.
“Honestly, I’m still sour about finishing second from last year. Two years in a row finishing second hurts, but you have to learn from it, move on. But you never forget it.”
When Truex first moved to Furniture Row Racing in 2014, he would have been thrilled just to win a race. He led one lap. He scored one top-five. He posted five top 10s before finishing a career-low 24th in the Cup standings.
The following year, Truex was aligned with Cole Pearn, and it was a game-changer for the Mayetta, New Jersey, native. Prior to the pairing, Truex accumulated just two wins and 31 top-five finishes over nine seasons. In their third year together, the Truex/Pearn won the NASCAR Cup title.
While this season was Truex’s second most successful in terms of wins, top 10s and average finishes, the transition from Furniture Row Racing to JGR wasn’t as seamless as it appeared.
“Even though we had seven wins—and a great season—at the start of the year we were searching a bit,” Truex said. “The new rules were a challenge to figure out, for sure, especially on the mile-and-a-halves with the 550 (horsepower) package. It was a bit of a challenge to figure that out.
“The old package, you could get it dialed in, and you could dominate. I feel like the 550 package is a lot more temperamental. You don’t see some guy leading both stages and winning the race very often, because it’s just really touchy. You can have the best car in one run, then it gets off a little bit and, the next thing you know, you’re running fifth or sixth. It’s just really competitive. It’s hard to stay up there consistently all day long.”
But the No. 19 team found a way. Not only did Truex win on intermediate tracks—which has been his bread and butter—he scored his first short track victories including a sweep of Richmond. Not surprisingly, Truex isn’t concerned whether the sanctioning body finds a solution to make the racing more entertaining. He knows whatever parameters are presented to the No. 19 team, they’ll find a way to win.
“I’m a guy that doesn’t really worry too much about what the rules are, more so try to figure out what I need to do to win with them,” Truex said. “Coming into this year, I wasn’t really sure how things were going to go. I typically seem to run better, be more comfortable or be able to find more advantages with less downforce.
“It seems like through the years, as they took downforce off, I felt like I was better. This year, we’ve had the most downforce than we’ve ever had and we still found a way to win. That credit goes to my team. Honestly, I try not to worry about those things jump to conclusions and say, ‘I’m going to like this or I’m not going to like that.’ It doesn’t matter what I like. It’s what we have. How do we win? That’s what I try to figure out. Whatever they do, we’ll embrace it and we’ll go to work.”
Truex holds tremendous confidence in Pearn and what the team has been able to accomplish over the last five seasons. Twenty-four wins later, Truex, 39, isn’t an afterthought when it comes to discussing NASCAR Cup drivers. He’s a perennial contender.
“It’s incredible, to be honest,” Truex said. “I never spend much time looking at numbers or accomplishments or anything because I’m trying to live in the moment and still trying to figure out how to get more and be better. But I saw some stats and if you look through my career at the top 10s from the first how many years until the last five, it really hasn’t been that much different. It’s the top fives and the wins that have been the game-changer.
"That’s a credit to people. We all know how important people are in this sport from crew chiefs to engineers to guys in the shop, you name it. I’ve been in a great position the last five years. I’ve had great teams, great equipment and the opportunity to succeed. It’s been a lot of hard work, for sure, but it’s been a lot of fun. It’s been very rewarding to see your hard work pay off.
“Not done, just trying to find a way to keep it going. That’s the hardest thing. This sport changes so fast, it’s always a challenge. You always have to adapt, find a way to be a better driver, a better leader for your team. Hopefully, just keep enjoying it, because if we’re enjoying it that means we’re being successful.”