If he hadn’t already, Martin Truex Jr. crossed the line Saturday night. No, he didn’t rub somebody out; and yes, he crossed the finish line first. The line- at least in this fan’s mind- that Truex has crossed is that one where a competitor goes from underdog to favorite.
As a driver, it’s a line you hope to one day cross. No doubt, when Martin Truex Jr. came into the Cup Series full time in 2006, he was thinking championships, not hardships. He had plenty of reason to be upbeat. Racing for DEI, he had won two championships in the old Busch Series, winning six races each in 2004 and 2005.
By now, we know the old story: Truex wandered from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Michael Waltrip Racing to Furniture Row. Going roughly five years between his first victory at Dover and his second at Sonoma, for so long, he looked like a rider on a downbound train. To make matters worse, that 2013 victory was overshadowed by “Spingate” at Richmond, when then-MWR teammate Clint Bowyer allegedly spun out to help enhance his team’s Chase chances.
By 2014, Martin Truex Jr. was solidly ensconced in the underdog role, racing for an underdog team. Furniture Row had served as a Last Chance Cafe for Kenny Wallace, Joe Nemechek and Kurt Busch- before the latter found new life at Stewart-Haas. Really, about the only real highlight was an upset win by Regan Smith at Darlington in 2011. Adding to their underdog status was the team’s set up of home base in Denver, Colorado. How the heck is a team going to succeed with a shop all the way out there?
After a bumpy ride in 2014, Martin Truex Jr. has gone on to win seven races for Furniture Row, including Saturday’s win at Kansas Speedway. With the season more than a quarter of the way run, he is now solidly entrenched as a weekly favorite. Only three times has the 36-year old qualified outside the top ten, and two of those were at restrictor plate tracks. As of this posting, Truex runs second in points to Kyle Larson.
2017 is shaping up to be a different sort of NASCAR world. You have a kid running first, the grizzled veteran Martin Truex Jr. in second, and then you have Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Jamie McMurray rounding out the top five. No Kyle Busch? No Dale Earnhardt Jr.? No Jimmie Johnson? Wow, what kind of alternate universe is this? No one knows how long this will last, but it’s kind of fun to see Truex doing battle with Ryan Blaney for wins.
Whatever mojo it is that Martin Truex Jr. and Cole Pearne have found, I am sure that Joe Gibbs Racing would like a gander at the recipe for their secret sauce. JGR’s technical allies have found a speed that the Coach and Company have not. Oh sure, Denny Hamlin and Busch had good runs, and rookie Daniel Suarez made a nice impression at Kansas. Still, no one thought that at this juncture of the season that JGR would be oh-for-’17.
Martin Truex Jr. has crossed a line. No longer do his fans hope for wins, they expect them. So does the 78. If his Truex’s predecessor is “The Outlaw,” then Truex is the new sheriff in town.
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