Martin Truex Jr.’s past two visits to Las Vegas have been quite memorable even though he never hit the jackpot at one of the local casinos.
More importantly for the Furniture Row Racing driver was posting a runner-up finish at last year’s Sprint Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. And during his most recent trip to the city of glitz in December, Truex was at the opulent Wynn Las Vegas ballroom giving a speech after accepting a career-best, fourth-place driver-standing trophy at the annual NASCAR award’s banquet.
Truex returns to the 1.5-mile oval this weekend second in current driver points with finishes of second in the Daytona 500 and seventh at the recent Cup race in Atlanta. His Daytona 500 runner-up (to Denny Hamlin) was the closest finish (0.010 seconds) in the 58-year history of the race.
“I feel we’re starting out the season stronger than the way we ended last season,” said Truex, who will drive the No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota in Vegas. “Our new affiliation with Toyota and our alliance with JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) is really working out for us. I feel we’re only going to get better as the season moves on.”
According to the 35-year-old Truex, the new low downforce rules package along with the fast and bumpy Las Vegas track will make for an exciting Kobalt 400 race.
“Las Vegas will be as wild and slippery ride as it was in Atlanta,” said Truex. “Vegas is a fast track where you have to hold down the throttle for a long time. The track is getting back to where it was before it was repaved. The groove is getting wide and the guys are moving around quite a bit. But it’s still really bumpy in turns 1 and 2.”
In 10 starts at Las Vegas, Truex has completed all but four of the 2,691 laps for a 99.9 percent lap completion rate. The four laps he didn’t complete were at the 2009 race, meaning he has finished on the lead lap in nine out of his 10 starts at the Las Vegas oval.
“Cole (crew chief Cole Pearn) and his staff have done an amazing job figuring out these tracks,” stated Truex. “One thing about Vegas, it’s not a super difficult track. However, the surface itself is tricky with temperature changes and the sun poking in and out. The track does change a lot with heat temperature. To be aggressive you must have a stable car.”
With the Furniture Row team shop based in Denver, Colo., the three-race western swing – Las Vegas (March 6), Phoenix (March 13) and Fontana, Calif. (March 20) usually means a travel advantage for Furniture Row Racing.
“The west coast swing is usually a good thing to keep all the races together,” said Truex. “It’s about the only time of the year our guys are on the plus side for sleep. They really enjoy racing somewhat close to home. But this year is a little different since they go from Las Vegas to Charlotte for a midweek tire test and then to Phoenix.”