Truex answers questions about future with solid results

Martin Truex Jr. drives during the Monster Energy Cup practice at Dover International Speedway on Friday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — Questions were swirling about Martin Truex Jr.’s future after his Furniture Row Racing team announced in early September that it would be closing its doors next season.

Suddenly, Truex — the defending champion of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series — was a driver without a country.

While Truex did quickly find a new home with Joe Gibbs Racing for 2019 his focus is now on going out on a high note as a repeat champion with his No. 78 race team, which is closing due to the loss of 5-Hour Energy Drink as its sponsor.

There is no question that Truex will feel right at home as he heads into Sunday’s Gander Outdoors 400 at Dover International Speedway, which the Mayetta, N.J., native often calls his “home track” since it sits 130 miles from his hometown.

Martin Truex Jr.

“No question Dover has been a good track for us,” said Truex, who has won twice on the Monster Mile. “I really feel comfortable driving there. It’s been one of my favorite tracks.”

The statistics show that the driver is quite comfortable on Dover’s high-banked, one-mile oval.

Truex has reeled off four consecutive top-four finishes (first, third and a pair of fourths), five straight top-10 finishes and eight top-10 finishes in the last nine races at Dover. His only finish outside of the top-10 over those nine events was an 11th.

That’s why he believes the racetrack will be a great place to start as he focuses on putting himself in position for a championship repeat as the NASCAR playoffs Round of 12 gets underway on Sunday.

The top eight drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup point standings following the next three races — at Dover, Talladega and Kansas — will continue to battle for the championship while the bottom four of the 12 drivers will be eliminated.

Truex enters Dover third in the point standings, just 17 behind leader Kyle Busch.

“Though we enter Dover with a modest cushion of playoff bonus points, we are very well aware that those points can evaporate in a hurry,” Truex said. “We need to remain consistent with solid finishes and try to get as many stage points as possible.

“We also like Kansas Speedway, which is the third and final race in the Round of 12. We’ve had plenty of success there, too. Talladega (the next race after Dover) is a wild card and we haven’t had much luck there, so we need to make sure we shine at Dover and Kansas to make the next round on our own and not worry about what other drivers are doing.”

It appeared as if Truex was going to win the final race of the Round of 16 at Charlotte last Sunday before he was taken out by Jimmie Johnson’s spin on the final turn of the final lap.

Despite that, his performances in the first three races of the playoffs have him encouraged.

“You know, we had the performance to win all three of the races in the first round,” said Truex, who had finishes of third in the first two races at Las Vegas and Richmond. “We came so close to a win at Charlotte but got spun out just before the finish line. Hopefully we’ll get that win when we really need it.”

One thing is for certain, he is confident his Furniture Row Racing team has his back for the remainder of the season despite its impending demise.

“I feel like we definitely want to repeat, no question about it,” Truex said. “I think you can take it one of two ways. You can hang your head down and say, ‘This sucks, why are we in this position?’ and get mad at the world, or you can look at each other and say, ‘Let’s go do this.’”

Truex drove to his first Cup Series victory at Dover in June 2007. He also won a playoff race at the track in October 2016, making it one of seven tracks where he has scored multiple wins.

Truex is cautiously optimistic heading into the second playoff round as he continues the battle to successfully defend his championship.

After all, he is one of NASCAR’s “Big Three” of himself, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, who dominated the regular season.

“I think the ‘Big Three’ talk is cool for the regular season, but when it comes to the playoffs, the big four are going to make the Final Four, so that’s the only thing that matters at that point,” Truex said.

“We can talk all we want about who did great in the regular season, but at the end of the day, we’re here to win a championship, and at the end of the season, the four best guys will be at Homestead, and hopefully we’re there.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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