Martin Truex Jr. will most likely have an extra bounce in his step when he gets to Michigan International Speedway for Sunday’s Firekeepers Casino 400.
The attributing factors for Truex’s uplifting attitude is that he is coming off a NASCAR Cup Series victory at Pocono Raceway along with his performances last year at Michigan’s 2.0-mile oval.
“I felt we had the best car at the Michigan races last year but came away empty handed in the win column,” said Truex, who will drive the No. 78 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota this weekend. “In fact if we circled races that we haven’t won at prior to the season Michigan would be high on the list. We really want this victory after what happened last year. It would also be nice to drive the blue car to Victory Lane since Auto-Owners Insurance is based in Lansing, Mich.”
Truex finished sixth and second at Michigan last year and won three of the four stages – two in the June race and one in the August race. Even Kyle Larson, who won both Michigan races in 2017, said Truex’s No. 78 Toyota was “the class of the field” after the first Michigan race.
But late-race restarts in the non-preferred inside lane dropped Truex out of contention in last year’s first Michigan race. In the second Michigan race, Truex held a safe lead but after a late caution he got beat on a restart for the two-lap overtime shootout.
“Although they were both solid finishes, they were frustrating results from our standpoint,” said the Furniture Row Racing driver.
Back to 2018.
Truex’s recent performances have quieted some critics who felt he was losing some of his 2017 championship mojo. In the last four races he has had finishes of fourth (Dover), second (Kansas), second (Charlotte) and first (Pocono) for a 2.25 average.
“I think if you look at our season as a whole -- we had four weekends where obviously we finished really bad,” Truex noted. “We had two blown tires and got caught in two wrecks all coming in four straight weeks, which really hurt us and set us back momentum-wise, but more so points-wise. Besides those four races, we've been top-five all but once. So if you look at that, it's like, it's pretty good.
“The things that we've had to battle back from to keep finishing in the top-five, it's hard to do. We've had more battles this year. We've had more adversity. Last year I felt like it was almost like we couldn't do anything wrong. This year we've had to really work a lot harder for it, but I feel like we're still right there.”
Truex’s first of two wins this season came at Michigan’s sister track -- the 2.0-mile oval in Fontana, Calif.
“I had a strong feeling prior to the California race and I have that same feeling for Michigan,” said Truex, who has nine top-five finishes in the first 14 races of the season. “Michigan has always been a special place for me. It’s where Sherry (Pollex, girlfriend) grew up and it’s also the closest track to our crew chief Cole Pearn’s hometown of London, Ontario. I am sure he will have family and friends attending the race. And yes, the fishing in northern Michigan is fantastic.”
Truex’s career record at Michigan International Speedway includes: 24 starts, six top fives, nine top 10s and 207 laps led. His average start is 13.8 and average finish 15.4.