Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – DOVER, DE – If there’s something Martin Truex Jr. knows about – it’s making the best of a good challenge.
Throughout his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career he’s been dealt wild cards and managed to play them to success. On Monday, he won the rain-delayed Gander RV 400 at Dover International Speedway after having to start from the rear after multiple inspection failures – his second rained-out Cup Series win at the track. And there is some important symbolism here – through the dark clouds Truex has emerged – again.
Truex won the 2017 Monster Energy Series title with a small independent team in Furniture Row Racing based in Denver, Co. – 2000 miles away from NASCAR’s Carolina hub. That team ceased operations following the 2018 season and Truex landed fortuitously at Joe Gibbs Racing. High expectations have followed the former champion to the multi-championship JGR team. And only 11 races into the new gig, Truex and his longtime crew chief Cole Pearn have apparently answered any questions about the transition – earning two victories in the last three races and hoisting a special golden trophy this Sunday at Dover.
If they can win a championship – and dominate a season – competing for a small, single-car team based two time zones away from the rest of the sport as they did in 2017, imagine the possibilities with the Gibbs team. And with two wins in the last month, those championship vibes turned up a notch.
“We’ve had some really strong race cars at a lot of race tracks but for a lot of reasons we haven’t been able to show it,’’ Truex said Monday. “We’ve been having issues that set us back. It’s been tough.
“The last couple weeks I just feel it’s execution. We’re doing all the little things right. The pit crew is doing an amazing job getting us track position, keeping it when we have it. Our cars are fast. Hopefully we can just continue to do this.
“It’s a lot of fun to come out here and win races.’’
Truex has seven top-10s in 11 races driving the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, including a pair of runner-up finishes at Atlanta and Phoenix in addition to his two wins.
And Truex’ work now gives the Gibbs team three drivers with multiple wins not even a third of the way through the season. In addition to Truex, Monster Energy Series points leader Kyle Busch has three wins and their teammate Denny Hamlin has a pair of victories – including the season-opening Daytona 500. Gibbs drivers account for seven of the season’s 11 wins.
“We’re thrilled for this kind of start,’’ team owner Joe Gibbs said. “It’s a big deal for us. As everybody knows in pro sports these things can go and come very quick. The hardest thing to do is to stay up there. That will be our goal for the rest of the year.
“We got off to a good start. New racing package, a lot of new things. Going to tracks, sometimes not really knowing going in what the package is going to be like. Our guys have done a great job adjusting to it.’’
Truex and the Monster Energy Series head west to Kansas Speedway this weekend where he has two wins in the last four races – sweeping both races en route to his 2017 title.
The 38-year-old Truex has been especially good on the 1.5-mile Kansas oval. In addition to his two wins – he won the 2017 fall race from the pole position – he has three runner-up finishes, including this spring race last year when he finished a blink-of-an-eye 0.390-seconds behind winner Kevin Harvick.
Certainly his past success gives Truex great confidence at Kansas, but he reminded everyone on Monday after his Dover race win that success coming through hardship and difficulty is a different, often more intense motivator. And he and his team are demonstrating the possibilities that exist.
“I think it’s real important,’’ Truex said. “I think it’s a credit to our leadership. It starts at the top. It’s all about people. Coach (Gibbs) is a great leader. (Crew chief) Cole (Pearn) is a great leader. I try to kind of play off of them.
“I think Cole and I both do a good job of setting the tone for our team. We have an awesome group of guys that are fired up and excited to be where they’re at, working together, working on this race car.
“They know what we’re all capable of together. That’s what it takes. Hopefully, we can continue to deliver.’’