Season Review: Martin Truex Jr.
By: Robbie Mays - @robbiemays | MRN.com on December 10, 2016 | 9:45 A.M. EST
“I had to unplug my radio and just ride around and think for a few minutes, because I didn’t even know what I was going to say or what I was going to do. We’ve been through a lot as a group.” (Photo: Getty Images)
The 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season was a breakout year for Martin Truex Jr.
After scoring only three wins in his first 10 full-time seasons, Truex went to Victory Lane four times in 2016 and was an early favorite to win the Sprint Cup Championship before a mechanical failure in the Round of 12 left him out of contention for the title.
The beginning of the season brought several questions for the Furniture Row Racing team. After many successful years with Chevrolet, Furniture Row changed manufacturers to Toyota and teamed up with Joe Gibbs Racing for equipment and an exchange of knowledge.
The switch to Toyota seemed to be flawless as Truex finished inches behind Denny Hamlin in the season-opening Daytona 500 and followed it up with a seventh-place effort the following week at Atlanta.
“Looking at the big picture I feel we’re starting out the season stronger than the way we ended last season,” Truex said following the Atlanta race. “That’s exciting for all of us. The guys worked hard in the off-season to get ready. They deserve it and everybody at JGR has really helped us along - helped us to get off the ground strong and can’t thank them enough for that.”
Following Atlanta, Truex went four races without a top-10 finish but seemed to be on route to his first win of the year at Texas Motor Speedway, leading 141 laps but failing to convert after late-race pit strategy took him out of contention for the win. He seemed to be on track the following month at Kansas to get to Victory Lane as well, leading 172 laps before a mechanical issue relegated him to a 14th-place finish.
“Frustrating, but that’s how it goes. We’re going to win races for sure,” Truex said after Kansas. “It’s frustrating when you’ve had it happen so many times in your career. It’s part of racing.”
Two weeks later, Truex and the Furniture Row Racing team got redemption by leading 392 of 400 laps and setting a NASCAR record for most miles led in a race to win the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and punched his ticket into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
“It was awesome to lead all those laps and miles and be the first guy to lead that many is a pretty big feather in the cap,” Truex said. “I had to unplug my radio and just ride around and think for a few minutes, because I didn’t even know what I was going to say or what I was going to do. We’ve been through a lot as a group.”
Truex would claim his second of NASCAR’s “Crown Jewel” races on Labor Day Weekend by taking the checkered flag in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, and would start the Chase seeded sixth by virtue of his two regular season wins.
The No. 78 Toyota seemed to be the early championship favorite after Truex went to Victory Lane twice in the Chase opening Round of 16, at Chicagoland Speedway and then again at Dover International Speedway.
“It’s a fairytale. All the credit goes to these guys. Cole (Pearn), the engineering staff, road crew, over-the-wall, everybody at TRD, our alliance with JGR and Barney Visser for giving us everything to be able to do this,” Truex said following his Dover triumph. “We’ve got it going right now and we’ve got confidence, we’ve got fast race cars and the guys are making good decisions.”
The Dover victory was the fourth of the season for Truex and third in the previous five Sprint Cup Series races. Optimism was high that Truex could return to the Championship 4 again in 2016.
But just as quickly as he built momentum in the Round of 16, the Round of 12 - which started at Charlotte where Truex had dominated earlier in the year - did not go nearly as well.
A mechanical problem late in the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte spoiled a possible season sweep at Charlotte for Truex. The next week at Kansas, Truex pitted late in the Hollywood Casino 400 for fuel, only to have the caution flag fly moments later and leaving him with an 11th-place finish. Truex would go to the cutoff race at Talladega the next week with a 13-point advantage over the cutoff spot.
Truex seemed destined to advance early in the weekend at Talladega, scoring the pole for the Hellmann’s 500 and staying up front early until his engine expired 41 laps in to the 188-lap race ending his bid for a championship run. It was the first engine failure of the season for the Furniture Row team.
“Just developed a vibration and started to lose a little bit of power,” a disappointed Truex said. “Originally I thought it could have been a tire because it was shaking worse and worse until it was time to pit. I slowed down to hit pit road and felt the vibration still there and knew it was an engine.”
“We have a great team and we’ve had a great season and we’re going to go out and try to win the rest of the races,” he said.
But the remainder of the season did not go plan. After a seventh at Martinsville and third at Texas, Truex would suffer DNFs in the final two races of the season at Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“The last two races were so bad for us. It was bad enough to get knocked out of the second round after the first round we had. Going into Phoenix we still had an opportunity to finish fifth in points. To go into Phoenix thinking we could finish fifth and end up 11th was a huge disappointment.”
In all, the 2016 season wasn’t what Truex wanted, but he did tie a career best with eight top-five finishes and set career highs with four wins, five poles and 1,809 laps led.
Motor Racing Network continues our look at the 16 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers in 2016 tomorrow with a look at the 10th-place driver, Chase Elliott.