Even with a cushion of banked playoff bonus points, Martin Truex Jr. doesn’t buy into predictions by pundits that he is a lock to be one of the final four drivers who will compete for the NASCAR Cup Series championship Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“There’s no guarantee we’ll get to Homestead (as a finalist),” said Truex. “One race at a time. You look at me like I am crazy, but (Kyle) Larson was second in points (going into Kansas) and he didn’t make it. They all say I’m a lock because I have so many playoff bonus points. I am telling you it’s not that simple. We have to go out and perform, can’t have an engine failure, can’t get caught up in a crash five laps into Martinsville. We have to focus on one race at a time.”
Truex leads the playoff standings and will take 69 bonus points into the Round of 8. That is 52 more bonus points than fifth-place drivers Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson.
The top four drivers after the Round of 8 will compete for the championship at the season finale Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The driver who has the best finish among the four finalists will be crowned the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion.
But to get to Homestead as a finalist Truex will have to start with Sunday’s tricky half-mile Martinsville (Va.) Speedway followed by Texas Motor Speedway (Nov. 5) and Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 12).
“We have momentum heading into the next round and have to keep on doing what we’ve been doing so far in the playoffs,” said Truex, who is coming off a win at Kansas. “This is crunch time and you’re competing against the best of the best. Everyone has to be at the top of their game.”
If you take away his race-ending crash at the wreck-fest Talladega Superspeedway, Truex’s average finish in the other five playoff races is 2.4. He has won three times – Chicagoland, Charlotte and Kansas and had finishes of fifth in New Hampshire and fourth in Dover. If you include Truex’s 23rd-place finish at Talladega his average finish is 5.8.
Truex will have one advantage at Martinsville in his No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota Camry. By virtue of winning the pole at Kansas last week, he will have the first pit stall at Martinsville.
“Having the first pit stall at Martinsville is huge,” said Truex. "I would say it’s probably the biggest advantage of any track we go to. Martinsville is challenging. It’s been one of the tracks that I feel we’ve been chipping away at. Our short track program has gotten a lot better this season. I am looking forward to Martinsville and hopefully will have the best race we’ve ever had there.”
In his last five races at Martinsville, Truex has an average finish of 10.6. He finished 16th there in the spring race.