Well before they dropped the green flag at Chicagoland last Sunday, Kyle Busch had this pronouncement:
“I’d probably look at the 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) for having the most raw speed here as of late and that’s the guy that probably we’re all chasing at the moment,” Busch said.
They’re chasing Truex even more, a week into the Chase.
He shrugged off a flat tire, then shrugged off the challenge from rookies Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott and won impressively at Chicagoland.
Truex has so much on his side right now. First, Furniture Row Racing is a one-car team, so all energy is focused toward his efforts. Second, Furniture Row is in a partnership with Joe Gibbs Racing, the dominant team in NASCAR. Third, Truex has the intangibles of confidence and momentum. Fourth, he’s proving he can flat race a car.
“I’ve never been in a position where I feel like we can go anywhere and win,” Truex said in his post-race media conference. “Right now I feel like any race track, any weekend, anywhere in the country we can win. It’s just so much fun to go to the race track and have that feeling, have that much confidence in your team and what you’re doing. Having that much confidence in yourself as a driver is the ultimate goal.”
Truex locked himself into the Chase by winning the 600-miler at Charlotte on Memorial Day weekend, then added to the momentum with a victory at Darlington on Labor Day weekend. Then, proving he didn’t need a holiday, he came back two weeks later with the Chicagoland victory, his sixth top 10 in 10 starts.
Truex is one of the many second-generation racers to make a splash. Alas, Martin Truex Sr. raced two decades in modifieds and other stock cars in the Northeast, raced occasionally at the Xfinity level but never in Sprint Cup.
By coincidence, the only time the father and son raced each other was at New Hampshire, where NASCAR heads this weekend. That’s when the elder Truex decided to step out of the car. As he once told the writer Dustin Long, “When they get to where you feel like you’re in their way, you need to give them a better opportunity. The best opportunity for him was for me to stop doing it and to focus on him.”
Last Race: Truex got a leg up on the rest of the Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders by winning the — it still hurts to type this — Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland. It assures that Truex will be one of the 12 drivers advancing to the next tier of the playoffs, even though his car was discovered during post-race inspection with a mild violation.
Next Race: Bad Boy Off Road 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Sunday, 1 p.m., NBC Sports Network. Our pick to win: Carl Edwards. Five of the last eight New Hampshire races have been won by Joe Gibbs Racing, and it’s his turn.
Pit Notes: Matt Kenseth goes into New Hampshire as a back-to-back winner and he’s the most recent winner at Dover, the next stop in the Chase. … Jeff Burton, who’ll be broadcasting the New Hampshire race on NBC Sports Network, led all 300 laps of the race there on Sept. 17, 2000. He’s the last driver to lead every lap of a NASCAR Sprint Cup race. … Truex gave Toyota its 14th win of the season, tying the best season for the manufacturer. It should easily break that mark with nine races remaining. … Munford’s Bret Holmes wrapped up the Pensacola track title last week and now he heads to Kentucky Speedway for an ARCA race on Friday. He’s coming off a third place at the Salem (Ind.) ARCA event. … Jimmie Johnson will hold a kids’ Q&A session at Talladega in conjunction with NASA on Sunday, Oct. 23, with the focus on STEM education. A Jimmie Johnson Family Ticket Package is available, with $48 tickets for adults and $24 for children. Call 1-877-Go2-DEGA for info and the ticket package.
Our Fast Five: 1. Denny Hamlin. 2. Martin Truex Jr. 3. Brad Keselowski. 4. Chase Elliott. 5. Joey Logano.
What They’re Saying: “All it means is that we’re guaranteed to make the second round, and the next two weeks we don’t have to worry about flat tires or somebody running into us and wrecking us, getting caught by a caution when you’re pitting, things like that. We don’t have to worry about the things that we can’t control.” — Martin Truex Jr.