NASCAR & Auto Racing

Underdog role suits Martin Truex Jr. just fine

Martin Truex Jr. has never won at Kansas Speedway, but he had two runner-up finishes in 2012.
Martin Truex Jr. has never won at Kansas Speedway, but he had two runner-up finishes in 2012. The Associated Press

Pick a childhood fable — The Tortoise and the Hare, The Little Engine That Could — and it applies to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Martin Truex Jr.

Truex’s No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevy team is based in Colorado, rare in itself not to be based in Charlotte, N.C., and doubly rare as a competitive single-car operation.

He only has one win this season, but Truex was a fixture near the top of the points standings throughout the season with 14 top-10 finishes in the first 15 races.

That included a ninth-place finish during the spring race at Kansas Speedway.

By most measures, it’s already been the best season of Truex’s career. His win in June at Pocono Raceway was the third of his career.

Truex, who finished third and survived all the way to the Cup final at Homestead-Miami Speedway last season, has never had more than one win in a season. His eight top-five finishes is a career high, and his 19 top-10s match the most he’s had in season (2012).

Nonetheless, he flies under the radar, which is just fine with Truex.

“I love it,” he said. “I think it’s great. I think it’s a perfect position for us to be in. The only pressure we have is what we put on ourselves. We know what we’re capable of and, if we fall short of that, we’re going to be disappointed. There’s no outside pressure. There are no expectations for us. It’s all about our expectations for ourselves, within our group.”

Truex’s team wasn’t meeting those internal expectations during a midsummer slide that began with consecutive crashes at Sonoma Raceway and Daytona International Speedway.

That kicked off a run of nine finishes outside the top 10 in the next 12 races, but Truex managed to survive the Challenger Round in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Now, he finds himself third in the Contender Round standings after a third-place finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a comfortable spot he hopes will be much more comfortable after today’s Hollywood Casino 400.

Truex has never won at Kansas Speedway, but he had two runner-up finishes in 2012 and boasts two more top-four finishes in his last seven starts.

He’s still not a favorite in the Chase, but he can’t be counted out either.

“If you look at it, we are an underdog,” Truex said. “I’ve never finished in the top 10 in points. We’ve got a rookie crew chief (Cole Pearn) and a single-car team in Denver. There are a lot of things that make us an underdog. … We don’t have that past history or that track record in the Chase or in championship battle, so I think it’s fair. But I think it’s kind of a fun position for us to be in.”

Tod Palmer: 816-234-4389, @todpalmer