Martin Truex Jr. managed a big smile in anticipation.
The reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion fully knew his plans for next season would be as important a topic to reporters as his present run for a second-consecutive season title.
Two weeks ago, his Furniture Row Racing team announced it would cease operations at the conclusion of the season — leaving Truex’s camp with an uncertain 2019, although rumors are rampant that most of the team will land in a good place.
Truex spoke to the situation immediately at Las Vegas’ South Point Casino during a Media Day opportunity with the 16 drivers who qualified for NASCAR’s Playoffs. The 10-race pursuit of the 2018 championship begins with Sunday’s South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
But first, Truex left no doubt about his commitment to the FRR team and that team’s focus on claiming a second-consecutive championship as he aims to become the first driver to win consecutive titles since Jimmie Johnson reeled off five straight from 2006-2010.
“I feel like we’re in a great place,” Truex said of his title hopes. “We definitely want to repeat, no question about it. I think you could take all this (team news) one of two ways. You could hang your head down and say, ‘this sucks’ and be mad at the world.
“Or you can look at each other and say, ‘let’s go do this.’ And I feel like that’s where we’re at. … Look at the names on our team, their names were made at Furniture Row and (team owner) Barney (Visser) giving us the opportunity to work at a great place and giving us all the tools we needed to go out and win a championship. So I think all of us, we look at that and say, ‘Hell yes. Let’s go do this.’ ”
“I truly, honestly feel like that’s our mindset, that’s our focus and I have no questions about where our team is and how they’ll approach the playoffs.”
Truex has good reason for the hopeful attitude. A member of the season’s “Big 3” — a group that also includes regular-season champion and six-race winner Kyle Busch, seven-time race winner Kevin Harvick — it’s been a successful answer to his 2017 trophy hoist.
Truex has scored 15 top-five finishes through the opening 26 races in the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota, putting him on good pace to answer his career-best season mark of 19 (2017) with 10 races still remaining.
He’s won races at Auto Club Speedway, Pocono Raceway, Sonoma Raceway and the 1.5-mile Kentucky Speedway this year. And, he’s finished runner-up another four times — including back-to-back at Kansas and Charlotte to start the summer.
“I look at our potential and I know what we can do,’” Truex said. “These last three weeks are a perfect example. We get crashed at Bristol, were running second at Darlington. … Then last week we ran 40 laps and broke the brake rotor. But we’ve had speed and I key on speed.
“We’re fast. I know we can win races and if we do things right we’ll be in position. Can we capitalize? That’s the question. That’s the hardest thing to do in racing.”
As for distractions, Truex has proven to be a master of focus. He’s faced challenges in his career and in his private life (his longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex is battling ovarian cancer). And right now, it’s really all good – he’s the defending Cup Series champion, armed with four wins and a highly motivated single car team intent to earn a second-straight title for a beloved, retiring owner.
“I’ve been tested and gone through adversity quite a bit,” Truex said. “But that’s life. That’s just part of it. How you get through those things is how you show what you’re made of. Anyone can win, anyone can have great days and have things go all their way. That’s easy. Anybody can do that. When you show your true colors are when you’re put in tough situations.”