Martin Truex Jr. hopes 600 miles Sunday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway bring some confidence to his team regarding their mile-and-a-half program.
While Truex has two wins this season, both have come on tracks one mile or shorter. And with NASCAR Cup Series teams using different aero packages on different tracks, the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing group hasn’t yet wrapped their arms around it at the bigger facilities.
“It’s been our biggest challenge this year, no question,” Truex said. “Kansas, historically one of our best racetracks, and we go there and struggle. We know where we missed it; the problem is you have to show up at a track where you haven’t raced this package before and do the right things. That’s still a challenge for us. We know what we missed in practice [here at Charlotte], and we know how we missed it at the All-Star Race last week, but the hard part about this sport is being on top of it when you show up.”
Truex finished 19th at Kansas, having to come from the back because of inspection issues. He spent much of the night running outside the top 10 and never led a lap. It was his first finish outside the top 10 in his last five Kansas races, a stretch that includes two wins. He was 10th last weekend in the All-Star Race.
“Unloading good — you have to kick your weekend off right because you only have 50 minutes of practice on Friday to qualify good,” Truex continued. “If you don’t qualify good, your weekend starts off on a bad note.
“Just still searching for that confidence as a team of what we need to show up at these tracks with. I feel like we’ve gotten better each week as we went [through the weekend]; we just haven’t hit it off the hauler.
“This week feels different. I was really happy [on Thursday], and I felt like it was one of the best practices we’ve had all year. Hopefully, that will continue throughout the weekend.”
The 2016 winner of the Coca-Cola 600, Truex will start 14th Sunday night. He was 10th in Thursday’s practice and eighth in today’s morning session.
Excluding the big two-mile Fontana oval, Truex has two top-10 finishes in four 1.5-mile races this season (Atlanta, Las Vegas, Texas, Kansas). But in those races he led only a combined 14 laps, with the rest of his 329 laps led coming during the three-week stretch from Richmond (which he won) through Talladega to Dover (which he also won).
Another reason that Truex & Co. have been fighting so hard is that things are different from one weekend to the next with the aero package — which has been an odd feeling for the veteran driver.
“Just because the last five years or whatever it’s not really been that way,” he explained. “We’ve really been pretty dialed in consistently for the most part. But I had lots of years early in my career where it was like this, where you’re just constantly searching, whether it’s for balance or speed or feel — just anything to get [the car] to where you want it to go.
“It’s something everybody deals with, and I feel like our guys will get it figured out. It’s just been a big challenge this season.”