It wasn’t that long ago Martin Truex Jr. sat on his porch and thought his days racing in the NASCAR Cup Series were soon to be over. Or at the very least he’d never be competitive again.
“It was late in the season, found out I wasn’t going to have a sponsor for the next year,” Truex recalled. “I didn’t know of any rides available. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know of any opportunities at that point in time, so I knew it was definitely going to be a tough road.
“But, I got fortunate that Barney Visser called and we were able to put that deal together. It was just a matter of luck and timing, to be honest, that it all came together. Obviously, the rest is history. Very fortunate.”
Sunday night, a day after the 2013 fall race in Richmond, Truex found out that NAPA was pulling out of Michael Waltrip Racing. The night before, the organization caught themselves in a race-manipulating scandal when Clint Bowyer appeared to purposely spin to bring the caution out, allowing Truex to go on and earn a spot in the playoffs.
While Truex lost his ride at MWR, he wasn’t out of the sport. With Kurt Busch being hired at Stewart-Haas Racing, it opened the No. 78 at Furniture Row Racing and Truex began his tenure with the team in 2014.
With a smile and slight laugh, Truex said had it not all worked out that way, he might be off clamming.
Four years later, however, Truex heads into the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway as the championship favorite. By outrunning Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Brad Keselowski, he can claim his first premier series title.
In 2015, Truex was in this same position but admittedly didn’t have the speed to contend with his three counterparts. Yet what was accomplished that season was proving that he and his bunch could indeed contend.
The first season together in 2014 was less than memorable. Truex averaged a finish of 20.2 with just five top-10 finishes. And while it wasn’t seen at the time, late in the year, perhaps around Kansas if Truex’s memory is correct, things began to change, and soon they were on a career-changing course.
“We took a different car, different chassis, which was more like the guys that we were buying the chassis from were running, it was one of theirs, and everything felt normal to me again. It was like, OK, I’m in a racecar again. It has four tires, not three,” recalled Truex. “We went and ran really well. We were fast all weekend. I think we qualified fourth or fifth, and we ran really good. Then the guys all looked at me like, wow, he might know what he’s talking about. That was it for me. It was like a switch flipped, especially in Cole [Pearn], because he was the engineer at that time.
“Then we could kind of see eye to eye and start talking about things, and everything just started making sense to both of us again. He’s like, ‘OK, now things are doing what they’re supposed to do. You’re telling me it did that, which I think it’s supposed to do, where the rest of the year nothing did anything it was supposed to do.’ Just kind of that switch flipped right there, and we gained that confidence and that trust, and we just started rolling from then on.”
Roll they did. Truex broke a winless streak in 2015, returning to victory lane at Pocono Raceway. Last year, he won a career-high (at the time) four races.
This year, he was crowned the Regular Season Champion driving arguably the fastest car in the series. Going into Sunday, Truex is already a winner of seven races and 19 stages. With that in mind, the sky won’t fall, he said, if he were unable to claim the biggest prize. But if the performance stays as it has been, Truex feels good about his chances.
And what an accomplishment it would be considering all that Truex has been though.
“I don’t even know if I can comprehend that right now, to be honest. I don’t know the answer to that question,” Truex said of what a championship would mean. “I’ve made it further in racing than I ever thought possible. This season’s been just an incredible ride. It’s been a lot of fun.
“I’ve tried along the way to slow down and just enjoy it, each win, and just the accomplishments. It’s hard not to think about a championship and what it would mean. And to see the names that have won, just to be a part of that group, would be something special. I know my family would be proud. I’d rather not talk much about it until it happens. So we’ll save that for Sunday night, hopefully.”