Truex Jr. try­ing for third straight win at Chicagolan­d

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Auto Racing - BY JAY CO­HEN As­so­ci­ated Press

Martin Truex Jr. just cel­e­brated his 38th birth­day. He has won two of his last three races. He is spend­ing this week­end at one of his fa­vorite tracks.

So yes, life is quite good at the mo­ment.

Truex ap­pears to be pick­ing up some mo­men­tum as he tries to be­come the first re­peat NASCAR Cup Se­ries cham­pion since Jim­mie John­son won five in a row from 200610. He goes for his third con­sec­u­tive vic­tory at Chicagolan­d Speed­way this Sun­day.

“This track has al­ways been re­ally good for me. Ob­vi­ously, the last two years, it’s been re­ally good,” said Truex, who turned 38 on Fri­day. “I had to over­come a lot of is­sues here both years it seems like to be able to get the win. That’s kind of neat look­ing back on our two races here, what we had to over­come to win. This year is go­ing to be dif­fer­ent, I think.”

Truex had to deal with a com­pletely un­rav­eled tire in 2016. He had an early pit-road penalty last year, but he led for 75 laps and fin­ished more than 7 sec­onds ahead of sec­ond­place Chase El­liott.

Truex and the rest of the Cup Se­ries face a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge on this visit to the bumpy 1.5-mile oval. Chicagolan­d was be­ing staged in Septem­ber as NASCAR’s play­off opener, but it has a mid­sum­mer date this sea­son, and the fore­cast calls for tem­per­a­tures in the 90s.

“Grip’s been tough to find this week­end for a lot of guys,” Truex said Satur­day. “New tires as well, so I mean there’s a lot of new things go­ing on. It’s def­i­nitely go­ing to be tougher. I would imag­ine that the groove’s go­ing to be prob­a­bly on av­er­age a lit­tle bit higher than when we run here in the fall. I think more guys are go­ing to get the top work­ing. It’s def­i­nitely go­ing to be dif­fer­ent, but how much it’s hard to say right now.”

Truex is com­ing off a win last week­end at Sono- ma, out­du­el­ing Kevin Har­vick on the road course for his third vic­tory of the sea­son in his Fur­ni­ture Row Rac­ing Toy­ota. He also won at Po­cono on June 3, hold­ing off a hard­charg­ing Kyle Lar­son.

Truex, Har­vick and Kyle Busch have com­bined for 12 wins in the first 16 races on the Cup Se­ries. The only other win­ners this sea­son are Austin Dil­lon, Clint Bowyer (twice) and Joey Logano.

With his three vic­to­ries, Truex could use the rest of the sum­mer to ex­per­i­ment with his car ahead of the play­offs. But Truex called that strat­egy “a lit­tle bit overblown.”

“The ex­per­i­men­ta­tion thing, I think, is some­thing that is more old school,” he said. “This day and age, you want to have con­fi­dence in the things you’re do­ing and con­tinue to do them. So that’s kind of the ap­proach we’ll take.”

Jim­mie’s sea­son: John­son is still look­ing for his first win this sea­son, and Chicagolan­d is one of three tracks on the Cup Se­ries sched­ule where he is with­out a vic­tory. He fin­ished sec­ond in 2004, ’08 and ’12. But the track also is the site of his only win in 83 starts on the Xfin­ity Se­ries. He has 83 Cup wins, one away from match­ing Hall of Famers Bobby Al­li­son and Dar­rell Wal­trip.

Re­mem­ber­ing Ja­son: A cou­ple driv­ers were plan­ning to pay trib­ute to Ja­son John­son, a sprint car driver who died last week­end at age 41 fol­low­ing a crash at Beaver Dam Race­way in Wis­con­sin. Lar­son said he will have a “For­ever 41” sticker in place of where his name would be on his car.

Keep­ing the faith: Daniel Suarez fin­ished 15th last week­end at Sonoma. He is 19th in the sea­son stand­ings and needs to get go­ing to make the play­offs, but he re­mains con­fi­dent. “We’re go­ing to make it. I will tell you that,” he said.

JONATHAN DANIEL Getty Im­ages for NASCAR

Martin Truex Jr., shown cel­e­brat­ing in Joliet, Ill., af­ter win­ning Sept. 18, 2016, has won two of his last three races and will try for his third con­sec­u­tive vic­tory at Chicagolan­d Speed­way on Sun­day.

Martin Truex Jr.

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