After a rough start to the NASCAR season, Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing team have had ample time to regroup during the two-month respite caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Though Truex doesn’t believe he’s missed a step since his long-time crew chief Cole Pearn retired and was replaced by engineer James Small, the break paid off.
Since the Cup Series' return, Truex has posted two top-10 finishes—his first of 2020—and vaulted from 15th in the standings to eighth after two events at Darlington Raceway.
“James has come in and done a wonderful job,” Truex said. “I feel like we really picked up where we left off last year, aside from some issues here and there. I feel really good about our group. We’re strong. James has done a really nice job. Maybe our cars are not quite as good compared to the competition as they were in the past two years, but, again, I feel like we’re right there, and James is doing an awesome job.
“We’ve been consistently scoring more points than our teammates, except for at the end of the race, so we’re trying to figure that out. Feel like he’s done all the right things and we continue to get better each week.”
And now, Truex heads to Charlotte Motor Speedway, a track where he’s not only the defending winner of the Coca-Cola 600 but also has won three of the last six races on the 1.5-mile oval. Among active drivers, only Jimmie Johnson’s eight trophies top Truex's three. But only Truex has posted podium finishes in his last four Charlotte oval starts.
“In general, Charlotte is a pretty high physically-demanding track,” Truex said. “600 miles just adds on top of that. For us normally, if we’re doing our normal week-to-week, 300 to 500-mile races, you have a week to prepare for the 600 and it’s not really a big deal having that extra 100 miles.
“The schedule that we’ve been on so far, having two months off and getting back into racing is something that’s been different from what we’ve really ever had before. I don’t know if 600 miles is going to feel the same as it normally does because of that. I know, for me, I’ve been trying to stay as well-prepared as I can, but there’s only so much you can do. There’s no way to practice for a 600-mile race, and I feel like being in a race car is something that’s hard to prepare for.
“Just trying to do what all I can and the normal deal of eating healthy and drinking lots of water all week. That’s kind of been the plan I’ve been on, and so far it’s working.”
Prior to NASCAR’s return, Truex and his life partner, Sherry Pollex, spent much of the pandemic self-quarantined at their home in Florida. As a cancer survivor, Pollex falls into the high-risk category, so the couple has been taking social distancing to the extreme.
“We haven’t been out,” Truex said. “We haven’t been talking to people we don’t know. We haven’t been seeing strangers and meeting new people and things like that.”
But even as isolated as Truex has been—exacerbated by his indifference to social media—he senses the positive vibes NASCAR has received since re-firing its engines.
“I think it’s been awesome,” Truex said. “I think everybody has been really excited about the racing. Darlington is typically a really good place to race anyway, but I feel like everything has gone really well. We’ve had three really good races, exciting races, and just judging off social media and the fans reactions, I feel like everybody is just really excited about racing coming back.
“From our perspective in the garage, I think the industry has been pleasantly surprised at just how smooth things have gone, how well-prepared NASCAR was and just what a great job of planning they did on all the things that we had to overcome. I think, from all angles, it’s been a huge success, and I know all of us have been happy to be back working again.”