NASCAR Notes: Better Days Ahead?
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on July 29, 2014 | 2:41 P.M. EST
Martin Truex Jr. says he and his Furniture Row Racing team are struggling to find consistency this season. (Photo: Getty Images)
A year ago, Martin Truex Jr. was on his way to the Chase or so he thought until a penalty at Richmond took that chance away. Nearly a year later, Truex is struggling with his new team and needs a win to qualify for a title run.
It is for drivers such as Truex that NASCAR Chairman Brian France trumpeted the new Chase format before the season. Now, a win all but gets a driver in the Chase.
Truex enters this weekend’s race at Pocono Raceway 24th in the point standings for Furniture Row Racing after placing 25th last weekend at Indianapolis. Truex has scored only three top-10 finishes this year with nothing better than a sixth-place finish at Dover last month.
“It’s been a tough season, to be honest,’’ Truex said during a break in testing at Watkins Glen International this week. “Not a whole lot has gone right for us. We’ve had decent speed at times, but consistency just hasn’t been there. Feel like we’re still kind of searching for what we’re looking for in our racecars and still trying to figure out what direction to go.
“I feel like we haven’t really honed in anything yet. That’s been disappointing. We’ve got a great bunch of guys trying really hard. One weekend can turn this thing around with the new format.’’
Pocono could provide some relief. Truex finished ninth there in June.
Should Truex score a win in any of the remaining six races before the 16-team Chase field is set, he’ll be in position to race for the championship.
“I think the new format is cool,’’ he said. “In years past, this time of the season, if you weren’t close enough to make it into the Chase, you really just kind of said, ‘OK this year is over and let’s start thinking about next year.’ Now, it’s not over. A lot can happen these next six weeks. Hopefully, we’ll be able to pull one out.’’
The frustration was evident after Sunday’s Brickyard 400 for Denny Hamlin even after finishing third.
Shortly after the checkered flag flew, Hamlin told crew chief Darian Grubb: “If we had that horsepower, it would ... be 1-2-3.’’
Instead, Jeff Gordon won - the 10th victory in 20 races for a car powered by a Hendrick Motorsports engine - with Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kyle Busch, Hamlin and Matt Kenseth following.
Horsepower again will be key this weekend with Pocono’s long straightaways. Hendrick-powered cars took six of the top 10 spots, including the win by Dale Earnhardt Jr., at Pocono in June. Hamlin finished fourth after starting on the pole but knows it could be a challenge to repeat that.
“We’re going to fight the same things,’’ Hamlin said. “We’re going to be slow in practice. Hopefully, we’re going to race really well.
“Pocono, Michigan, all the big, fast motor racetracks are going to be the challenges for our race teams. We feel we've turned the corner on the short track stuff. Feel like we have a good package there. We showed pretty strong at Loudon. It's all coming together slowly, which is frustrating from a driver standpoint, because you want to be competitive from February to November, but it's hard to do in our sport, to stay on top like that.’’
JTG Daugherty (AJ Allmendinger), Richard Petty Motorsports (Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola) and Furniture Row Racing (Martin Truex Jr.) tested Monday and Tuesday at Watkins Glen International.
Austin and Ty Dillon also tested Monday but drove SCCA Trans-Am Camaros. Since they were not in the cars they will run at Watkins Glen, the session doesn’t count against the team’s four allowed tests at tracks hosting a Sprit Cup race.
Max Papis tutored both Dillons on the track during the test.
Kyle Busch has finished second in three of the last four Cup races. He placed second at Kentucky, New Hampshire and Indianapolis. ... Brad Keselowski will do double-duty this weekend, competing in Saturday’s Nationwide race at Iowa Speedway and Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Pocono. ... Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson are both entered in Saturday’s Camping World Truck race at Pocono to gain more experience at that track. ... Ryan Blaney enters the Truck race as the series points leader. It’s the first time a Ford driver has led the points in that series since Rick Crawford in 2008. ... Dierks Bentley will perform a concert after the Aug. 20 Truck race at Bristol Motor Speedway. ... Fox Sports 1 analyst Hermie Sadler will drive for Tri-Star Motorsports at Bristol and Richmond. He last raced in the Nationwide Series in 2010.