Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – LONG POND, PA – Martin Truex Jr. is just glad he’s not in the same boat—literally.
That’s not to say a trip to his New Jersey home—and a visit to Atlantic City and the clam boat he worked during his youth—didn’t produce some pangs of nostalgia for the reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.
But Truex has come light years since his early days harvesting clams for his family business.
“It was very nostalgic, and that particular boat is very special to my dad, because it was his actual first boat he ever built,” Truex said after Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at Pocono Raceway on Friday. “It’s just a cool story, his first boat, I got to work on it. It’s still in service, still working each and every day.
“But just to go in there and to look at it and just feel the memories of what it was like, how much time I spent on there, how much I didn’t like it, and then just so many things haven’t changed in that business. That boat is the same. It looks identical. There’s so many things in it that are still the same, and it just reminded me of how fast time really goes by, because it felt like just yesterday I was out there working on that thing. It’s crazy.”
Truex left New Jersey with some new memories, too. In Trenton, the state capital, Gov. Phil Murphy declared May 31 Martin Truex Jr. day. And on Friday, Truex was recognized as national driver of the year by the Eastern Motorsports Press Association.
“(Thursday) was a big day,” Truex said. “It was fun to go home, to go to the state capital and meet the governor and get the proclamation that yesterday was MTJ Day in New Jersey. That’s just crazy to think about. It’s crazy to think about things like that, where we’ve come to in such a short amount of time.
“It feels like just yesterday I was living up there working, building race cars and racing for fun and thinking, yeah, ‘Maybe someday somebody will hire me to drive for them.’ And here we are not that much further down the road with a championship and all the things that have come along with it.”
AS DALE JR.’S SUCCESSOR, ALEX BOWMAN FEELS PRESSURE FORM A DIFFERENT SOURCE
You might think Alex Bowman would chafe under the weight of the pressure that accompanies stepping into the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet vacated by Dale Earnhardt Jr. after last season.
You’d be wrong.
What motivates Bowman to a greater degree is the history of Hendrick Motorsports, where winning races and titles has become the expectation over the past three decades.
“I think, honestly, there’s not a lot of pressure in the fact that it’s Dale’s old car, it’s the No. 88 car,” Bowman said. “The pressure for me comes from the fact that it’s a Hendrick Motorsports car. Hendrick Motorsports is known for winning races and winning championships, and that’s what I’m expected to do.
“I think most of my pressure comes from myself and the fact that I just want to win races and prove that I can do it. For me, there are a lot of No. 88 fans, obviously, and my job is to give them something to cheer for. I don’t feel like we’ve done a very good job of that this year. We’ve had hints of brilliance and hints of being able to run up front, but we haven’t consistently given them something to really cheer for every weekend.
“We know we need to get better, and I think that will come with wins, but there’s not a lot of pressure from the Dale side of things. It’s just pressure because I want to win.”
Thirteen races into the season, Hendrick is still looking for its first win, but the speed of the Hendrick cars has improved recently. Bowman comes to Sunday’s Pocono 400 (at 2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) fresh from his fourth top 10 of the season (ninth in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte).
CHRISTOPHER BELL FINDS A WAY TO EMBRACE NASCAR XFINITY PACKAGE FOR POCONO
Christopher Bell was trying to keep an open mind.
The driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota wasn’t sure he liked the high-downforce, restrictor plate competition package in place for Saturday’s Pocono Green 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Pocono Raceway (1 p.m. ET Saturday on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Then found a perspective that gave him cause for optimism.
“I’ll be honest,” Bell said. “I wasn’t super excited about the package change whenever I first heard about it, but after watching the All-Star Race and doing some studying at the Indianapolis Xfinity Series race last year, and all of Toyota’s simulations, I expect to be similar to how the (NASCAR Camping World) Trucks race here.
“The trucks have a bunch of drag and downforce. They can draft really good down the straightaways, but yet you still have separation. I’m expecting the Xfinity race to be something similar to what the Trucks normally do around here, and if so, hopefully that plays into my hands.”
It’s not surprising Bell would feel that way—he took the checkered flag in his last Truck Series start at Pocono.