HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Two years ago entering the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Martin Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing were the pairing that no one expected to make it all the way to the Championship 4.
They quietly went about their business, sneaking out a surprise win at Pocono Raceway to make the playoffs and then using sheer consistency to move from round to round, ultimately advancing to the season finale after few gave them a chance to even make it past the second round.
In stark contrast, this season they were the team that everyone expected to be a lock to fight for the title.
Truex has taken the Denver, Colorado-based team to new heights this season, scoring a career-high and series-leading seven Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins, including a record six victories on mile-and-a-half race tracks.
He’s also led the league in stage wins (19), playoff points (69), top-fives (18), top-10s (25), laps led (2,175), average starting position (6.9) and average finishing position (9.7).
By the numbers alone, let alone his incredible performance on the intermediate tracks, he enters South Florida as the unbridled frontrunner for the title.
But don’t let that fool you: Truex is confident, and says he feels no added weight on his shoulders going into Sunday’s season finale (3 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM).
“I don’t think it’s any extra pressure at all,” Truex said of being the arguable favorite. “I mean, it’s a sign of what we’ve done all year. I think there’s no doubt about it; we’re the team to beat.”
A career-best effort at Phoenix, finishing third behind race winner Matt Kenseth and runner-up Chase Elliott, was evidence of that strength and gives the No. 78 team a shot of momentum going forward into Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence in our team right now and what we’re doing, and I think (Sunday) was a perfect example of that for us,” Truex said. “We just have just keep doing what we’re doing, go down to Miami and just have fun and do what we know how to do. If we do the best job we possibly can … hopefully we’ll come out on top.”
Truex will face off against two of the three drivers — Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick — that he battled in the Championship 4 during his first appearance there in 2015 again come Sunday afternoon.
But he also recognizes that he is the only one of the title quartet that doesn’t have a prior championship to his name.
While that gives him an added layer of respect for the three drivers he’ll be fighting with on Sunday, Truex said it also makes him hungry to add his own name to the list of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champions.
“I have a lot of respect for all three of these guys,” admitted Truex. “Two of them were in the Final Four when I made it in 2015. I definitely have a little bit of experience in this position, but you know, I’m honestly just excited about the opportunity (to fight for the title). I feel like we’re in a whole lot better spot as a team than we were the first time we had a shot at it, and we’re going to go out there and just do the best job we can do.”
“They each have a title and I don’t. That means it’s my turn.”
And he said that head games won’t rattle him either, despite being the only one of the four who’s yet to taste the championship champagne.
“(Trash talk) doesn’t work on me. If I’m the favorite, perfect,” Truex asserted. “I like that. I think it’s a better position to be in. I was the underdog before and I finished fourth, so bring it on.”
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network, as well as a periodic contributor to SPEED SPORT Magazine.
Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 23-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
Email Jacob at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Email Race Chaser Online: email@example.com
Follow RCO on Twitter: @RaceChaserNews