Truex the face of focus — wins Dover pole

Martin Truex Jr. holds the pole flag after winning the Apache Warrior 400 pole on Friday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — Martin Truex Jr. is obviously hungry to capture this year’s Monster Energy Series championship.

After all, he has recorded a circuit-best five victories and is currently the point leader. He has seemingly been a factor in almost every race this season.

With a heavy-right foot, Truex continued on his determined title drive on Friday afternoon as he motored to the pole position for Sunday’s Apache Warrior 400 presented by Lucas Oil at Dover International Speedway.

Truex, driving the No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota, clicked off an average speed of 160.664 mph in the final of three rounds of qualifying to win a pole on Dover’s high-banked, one-mile oval for the third time in his career.

Truex’s fast lap pushed Kyle Busch (160.392) to the second starting position, followed by Kyle Larson, Matt Kenseth and rookie Daniel Suarez.

Truex said all of the success he has experienced the past couple of seasons just makes him hungry for more. He added that maintaining focus can be a challenge.

Martin Truex Jr. wins the Apache Warrior 400 pole at Dover International Speedway on Friday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

“When you get to this level it takes so many things to come together to be in a position that I’ve been in the last few years, really,” said Truex, who recorded his second pole of the season and 14th of his career. “I’m very thankful. I’m definitely enjoying it. I’m trying to enjoy every single week.

“At the same time, there’s that championship out there. You can’t lose focus and say, ‘Hey, this is going great, we’re just going to show up to the track and everything’s going to be fine.’ You still have to work hard. It’s still difficult.”

Truex and Busch have already cemented their spots to advance to the Round of 12 in NASCAR’s playoffs by virtue of wins at Chicagoland (Busch) and New Hampshire (Truex).
They won’t be facing any playoff pressure on Sunday.

Busch, who had won the last two Monster Energy poles and was fastest in the first two rounds of qualifying at Dover, thought he might have used up too much of his tires during those first two runs.

“We didn’t come out of (Dover) with our ninth pole of the season, but we’ll take it,” Busch said. “It’s a front row starting spot and, hopefully, it’ll be a good enough pit selection.

“It’s got some good speed in it. I was a little worried after practice that we weren’t going to have the speed that we needed to contend for a pole, but obviously we had it when it mattered, so we’ll go back to the drawing board and work on race stuff for (today).”

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will be making his final start at Dover on Sunday before his retirement at the end of the season, gave the fans a thrill when he rose up to the No. 2 spot on the scoreboard during the second round of qualifying.

However, he wasn’t quite as quick in the final round and will start seventh.

“This has been a track where we had some good runs, and as with any track there are ups and downs, but there is a respect and appreciation,” Earnhardt said. “Everything about this place is first-class.”

Sunday’s event at Dover is the first elimination race as the three-race Round of 16 comes to an end. The bottom four drivers will be cut from 16 initial title contenders.

There were many playoff contenders who struggled in qualifying at the “Monster Mile” on Friday, including Jimmie Johnson, a seven-time champion and an 11-time winner at Dover, will start 17th on Sunday.

Johnson wasn’t alone with his qualifying troubles.

Fellow playoff contenders Kurt Busch (13th), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (15th), Brad Keselowski (16th), Kasey Kahne (21st) and Austin Dillon (23rd) struggled to find speed.

Jamie McMurray was the slowest among the playoff-eligible drivers as he qualified 26th, his worst starting spot of the season.

Truex and Busch will have clear sailing when the green flag waves on Sunday, which is always important at the treacherous track.

Out of 95 Cup Series races at Dover, 13 wins have come from the pole position while 16 other races have been won from second.

For Truex, it was another positive step forward.

“Overall, I think it was a pretty good day, we accomplished a lot,” Truex said. “Goodyear brought a new tire here for this weekend and I thought we were off a little bit in practice.

“We just kind of chased the balance a bit and made some changes and felt like we were pretty close at the end of practice. We were just able to put together a decent lap there in the third round.

“We’re really looking forward to racing on Sunday.”

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