PLYMOUTH, Wis.—Martin Truex Jr.’s passion for racing has propelled him to the 2017 Cup championship and two Xfinity Series titles with JR Motorsports.
During his 16 seasons in Cup, the past six have by far been his best with Playoff berths each year including four appearances in the Championship 4. Before 2015, Truex scored just two wins. His move to Furniture Row Racing followed by Joe Gibbs Racing has provided Truex with the resources and personnel to amass 28 additional victories and become a perennial contender in stock car’s premier series.
Entering 2021, Truex proved to be as prolific as ever with three wins in the first 12 contests. But at 41—and with the advent of the Next Gen car—bringing a new vehicle up to speed might be more of an exercise than he signed up for.
It’s not that Truex’s desire to race has waned, far from it. There are just so many unknowns.
“I would say, yes it would,” said Truex when asked whether the Next Gen car will affect his longevity in the sport. “It will, I think and that’s a fair question. I think, look at the new car, see what it’s like, go racing, hopefully, it’s fun.
“Hopefully, I have as much fun as I have driving these things. I love working with my team. I still love racing, but for sure, that’s going to be a big deal. If it’s not fun, I won’t hang around too long. I don’t have to do this anymore (laughs). I’m still around because I really want to do this and continue winning races and hopefully more championships. It's fair--it's a fair statement, for sure.”
Truex is currently seventh in the Cup standings. His 19 Playoff points are second only to Kyle Larson. Unlike his teammate Denny Hamlin, whose frustration with Hendrick Motorsports dominance led him to quip he's racing for fifth-place, Truex still comes to win.
"It's definitely tough coming to the race track feeling like you can't win," Truex said. "Obviously, they're certainly strong, but they're beatable. Look, Kyle (Busch) won last week. That's a little inspiration for all of us to step it up. We just have to be perfect. We just have to hit everything right. We have to have the right strategy, great pit stops--all those things--no driver mistakes, qualify well, great restarts. All those little things add up.
"Everybody is beatable. For us, we just haven't been that good lately. We've been searching. It's been tough. But I feel like we started to turn it around last week at Pocono. It was a decent run. We didn't finish where we should have--speed-wise--but we made some improvements there and won the first stage in Race 2. There's a little bit to gain there still, but hopefully, we can continue to build on it."
Truex’s next challenge will come this weekend at Road America. He has been a threat on road courses throughout his career. Truex won three of the last eight races at Sonoma—and hasn’t finished worse than third in his last three starts. Although Truex has just one win at Watkins Glen (2017), he backed up that result with a pair of second-place finishes.
Since NASCAR introduced the Roval in 2018 and the Daytona Road Course last year, he’s displayed average finishes of 9.3 and 7.5, respectively.
But Road America is a whole new animal. The Xfinity Series didn’t race at the 4.048-mile course in Elkhart Lake when Truex ran the series.
“I feel a pretty big disadvantage right now honestly,” Truex said. “One practice, 50 minutes, I think we made 13,14 laps. That's not a lot, ins and outs, coming out of the garage, a four-mile road course with 12 tricky turns takes longer than 14 laps to learn. I’m nowhere near where I want to be. I know there’s a lot more speed for me to be had.
“I know our Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry is faster than what I showed today, so now we just try to be smart and pick out the areas where I think we need to make the car better and then not pick the wrong areas where we just need to make me better. It’s a big learning curve right now and I wish we had another practice to be honest with you.”
Truex received a dose of reality when he watched Kyle Busch spin halfway through the session.
“I just saw him sitting there when I came around the corner,” Truex said. “I was going through the kink, and you saw the dust and start slowing down and you just hope no one is sitting in the middle of the track and luckily, he was off on the side of the track.
“Pretty wild when a guy goes off in front of you there and dirt flies everywhere and you can’t see anything, it’s a little bit hairy.”
Truex’s strategy for Sunday’s Jockey Made in America 250? Take it one corner at a time.
“It’s a big challenge for sure,” Truex said. “I think it’s really about confidence and understanding how much you can get in that corner. Again, it’s very narrow and there’s not a lot of runoff, but there’s a lot of time to be gained there as well. You're playing that balancing act of trying to baby step it and go a little faster each time and hope you don’t try to get too much and overstep it.
“I was getting faster through there every single time all day, but then I came through there one time and saw the 18 (Busch) backward, crashed, and it’s like alright, just baby steps, a little bit at a time. I haven’t quite got to where I want to be yet, just needed a little more time out there.”