Martin Truex Jr. has known nothing but heartbreak at Kansas Speedway.
He led 173 of the 267 laps in the in spring 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway, only to lose down the stretch to Denny Hamlin by 0.70 of a second. In the 2012 fall race, Truex finished second to Matt Kenseth by 0.49 of a second.
And last May, as the pole sitter, Truex dominated the race by leading 172 laps before he had to extend a pit stop because of an overheating lug nut with 51 laps to go and settled for a 14th-place finish.
So as Truex, winner of a career-most four races this season, approaches the Hollywood 400 Casino on Sunday at Kansas Speedway, does he feel confident or conflicted?
“I definitely get a positive vibe coming here … a positive feeling that we’ve been so close, we’ve done just about everything here but win, and I feel like it’s time for us to make that happen,” said Truex, 36. “And I don’t think there’s ever been a time where I’ve come here more confident. I’m looking forward to seeing if we can finally close the deal here.”
Truex, who will be making his 400th career start on Sunday, won two of the three races in the first round of the Chase. But in the opening round of the second three-race segment, he slipped to a 13th-place finish last week at Charlotte when the clutch malfunctioned while leaving his pit stall with fewer than 30 laps remaining.
Truex now sits an uneasy seventh in the standings, one spot ahead of the cutdown to eight drivers after the races at Kansas and unpredictable Talladega.
Still, some consider him the favorite on Sunday, considering his performances at Kansas Speedway. He will start fourth in the race.
“I look for him to be the driver to beat,” said former Sprint Cup champion Dale Jarrett, now an analyst for NBC Sports, which will televise the race. “As a driver, you find those places that suit your feel, and even though they haven’t won (at Kansas), there have been a number of different reasons for that. But I think this weekend, it’s his time to solve that.”
A key factor in Truex’s breakthrough year — he had won only three Sprint Cup races in 10 previous seasons — was the alliance the one-car, No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota team formed this season with powerhouse Joe Gibbs Racing and its four drivers: reigning Cup champion Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth, all of whom are also in the Chase.
“It’s been a dream come true for me to be able to drive in that situation and take advantage of it,” Truex said. “Just the technology, the people, the smarts … working with the other drivers. It’s been neat to race with those guys each week and compare things and compare notes and talk about setups and what this person likes and that person likes.
“I’ve definitely gotten better at a few race tracks because of those guys, and hopefully they can say the same thing about me.”
Winning on Sunday would not only assure Truex a spot in the Round of Eight, it would be special for Denver-based Furniture Row Racing, which is the only Sprint Cup organization not headquartered in North Carolina and considers Kansas Speedway its home track.
“We get a lot of fans from Colorado that say, ‘Hey, we came out from Denver to support the team,’ which is awesome,” Truex said. “It’s the shortest trip for (owner) Barney Visser come on Sunday, and he usually brings the bigger part of his family here than he does at most places, so, yeah, it’s great for those guys that don’t get to come to the race track all the time, but it’s cool for a lot of our fans from out in Colorado and west of the Mississippi just to get a race to support their team.”