Truex goes from jour­ney­man to NAS­CAR cham­pi­onship fa­vorite

The Standard Journal - - NATIONAL SPORTS -

CON­CORD, N.C. (AP) — Martin Truex Jr. spent al­most a decade try­ing to climb his way into NAS­CAR's top tier. He didn't win races, never led many laps, wasn't con­sid­ered an elite driver ca­pa­ble of win­ning cham­pi­onships. Then sud­denly, it clicked. Truex has trans­formed over the last two sea­sons from a jour­ney­man driver into a le­git­i­mate ti­tle con­tender. Some might even say he's the fa­vorite to win this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup cham­pi­onship.

He won two races in the first round of the play­offs and goes into the open­ing race of the sec­ond round Satur­day night in search of another dom­i­nat­ing per­for­mance at Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way. Truex led all but eight of the 400 laps in the Coca-Cola 600 to score his first win of what's turned into a dream sea­son.

Asked Thurs­day about those lean years — he drove for Dale Earn­hardt Inc. as it was on the verge of col­lapse, Chip Ganassi Rac­ing when the team was strug­gling, Michael Wal­trip Rac­ing dur­ing an em­bar­rass­ing cheat­ing scan­dal that con­trib­uted to its clo­sure — Truex noted the dif­fer­ences.

"It's al­most like, ' OK, fi­nally, we're here,'" he said. "Now, how do we make sure we can keep it go­ing? You un­der­stand how easy it is to be on the other side of it and how hard you worked to get here."

For Truex, the MWR de­ba­cle has been the best thing to hap­pen to his ca­reer.

When the team was ac­cused of a se­quence of shady events that put Truex into the 2013 Chase, the team was severely sanc­tioned and he was kicked out of the cham­pi­onship field. He was an un­wit­ting vic­tim of the scan­dal, but it prompted his spon­sor to leave MWR and the ul­ti­mate clos­ing of Truex's team. Two years later, MWR was out of business,

Truex landed in 2014 at sin­gle-car team Fur­ni­ture Row Motorsports, a job that could have been seen as a step back. MWR was a multi-car team with a Toy­ota part­ner­ship, Fur­ni­ture Row was a mid­dle of the pack Chevro­let team lo­cated in Den­ver, far from the hub of NAS­CAR tal­ent in North Carolina.

The fit has been amaz­ing, though, and Truex not only made the Chase last sea­son, he ad­vanced all the way to the cham­pi­onship race.

This year, Fur­ni­ture Row switched to Toy­ota and aligned with Joe Gibbs Rac­ing. De­spite the dis­tance from JGR, his role as a part­ner and not a true Gibbs team­mate and the tran­si­tion it­self, Truex has been among the most con­sis­tent driv­ers all sea­son.

He has ca­reer-bests in vic­to­ries — his four wins in­clude the crown jewel Coca-Cola 600 and South­ern 500 races — and laps led. His two wins in the open­ing round of the Chase set the pace and have made win­ning the ti­tle a re­al­is­tic pos­si­bil­ity.

"Your fo­cus is just, 'What can I do to con­tinue this roll, con­tinue this mo­men­tum?'" he said. "I think a lot of it ob­vi­ously is be­ing part of a great team.”

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