Truex enjoys home cooking on Dover’s high banks

Martin Truex Jr. answers questions in the Media Center at Dover International Speedway on Friday May 3. ( Special to the Delaware State News /Chuck Snyder)

DOVER — Martin Truex Jr. doesn’t have a mail box or cut the grass at Dover International Speedway, but the track has always felt like home to him.

Dover was the site of Truex’s first career Cup Series victory in 2007 and he added another Monster trophy in 2016, so he enters today’s Gander RV 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at the track both comfortable and optimistic.

“It’s a great place and such a unique race track,” said Truex, a native of nearby Mayetta, New Jersey. “One of my favorites to come to for sure. It’s called ‘The Monster’ for a reason — it’s mean and it’s fast and it’s big. It’s kind of crazy. I really enjoy it and I’ve been coming here a long time.

“I ran the Busch North car here back in the day and things like that. My family owned a car here in the Busch Series, so it’s definitely a special place for me, not far from where I grew up and always look forward to coming back here and being on the East Coast.”

Truex has the numbers to prove that he will be a solid contender to drive into victory lane today.

Truex, the 2018 Cup Series champion, has five top-10 finishes and four top-fives in the last six Dover races, leading 387 laps in that time. He hasn’t started farther back than the fourth row in the last eight races. He’s won at the track in the Xfinity Series, too – scoring two of his 13 career wins there (in 2004 and ’05).

Though he qualified 13th for today’s race he admits he has no idea how the event will play out due to the record-breaking speeds the drivers are achieving on the high-banked, one-mile oval after a new racing package has them dealing with higher horsepower and more downforce.

“There’s no question it’s going to be harder to get close to someone as fast as we’re going,” Truex Jr. said. “There’s no way around that, that’s simple science. I don’t know, we’ll have to wait and see. It’s really fast and obviously you don’t want to hit anything. It’s a race car so there’s always danger involved, I guess.

“I can’t explain to you how fast it feels, it’s pretty hairy out there. It’s a pretty wild ride, a lot of fun, but you really have to attack. We’re just trying to figure out where the limit is because it’s something we just haven’t done here before like this.”

Truex moved over to the Joe Gibbs Racing team this season and things appear to be coming together for him after he recorded his first career short-track win at Richmond Raceway a couple of weeks ago.

That marked a huge moment for Truex’s new race team.

“I kept trying to encourage them and saying, look, we’re going to get this, don’t worry about it,” Mr. Gibbs said. “But I know how competitive they are, Cole (Pearn, crew chief) and Martin both, and the whole team there, and our pit crew. (Richmond) was a huge deal for our pit crew, for them to really perform well as kind of a new group, be able to get this win. It’s a huge deal for them.”

Since a disappointing 35th-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500, Truex has steadily made his way up the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings. He has a pair of runner-up showings at Atlanta and Phoenix in his No. 19 Toyota Camry and is currently sixth in the championship rankings, only nine points behind fifth place Brad Keselowski.

Today, he has a date with the unknown at Dover.

“Dover is going to be a tough race, I think,’’ said Truex. “The speeds are going to be really high. I’m sure it will be the fastest we’ve ever been around Dover and 400 laps there is tough no matter what. I think it’s going to be pretty crazy.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to do some passing and hopefully the dirty air deal is not terrible. I think track position will be important, but the speeds are going to be tough. It’s going to be demanding. Bristol was pretty crazy. I thought it was just because of how hard you had to drive the car every lap. As fast as Dover is, I think feel-wise, it’s probably the fastest place we go. So, it’s going to be an eye opener for some guys.”

For Truex, it will still feel like home.

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