Now that his plans to join Joe Gibbs Racing next year are official Martin Truex Jr. has his sights squarely set on a second straight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship.
There had been months of speculation since team owner Barney Visser announced his intentions to cease operations of Furniture Row Racing at season’s end Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn would migrate to JGR. Earlier this week that news became official and the duo will take control of the team’s No. 19 Toyota in 2019.
While neither Truex Jr. nor Pearn have used the obvious behind the scenes machinations as a distraction, the performance of the No. 78 entry has been off in recent weeks by their own high gold standards.
There have been some near misses for victories thanks to controversial finishes that included contact from Jimmie Johnson at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval and Joey Logano on the last lap at Martinsville, but Truex Jr. has not won a race since Kentucky in July.
Still he is 25 points above the playoff cutline entering Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at ISM Raceway in Phoenix and has a solid shot to move to the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
But in order to do so, Truex Jr. admits his team has to be mistake-free.
“No doubt, we’ve had too many unforced errors,” Truex Jr. said. “That needs to stop and hopefully it will be this weekend when it does. I feel good about where we’re at going into Phoenix. I am also well aware there are a number of different scenarios that could help us or hurt us. Heck, you could have a good day in Phoenix and not make the final four, and on the other hand, you could have a bad day and still make the final four.
“It’s confusing and complicated and what we need to do is just worry about ourselves, not make any stupid mistakes, be prepared for different situations and try to get every possible point in our No. 78 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota.”
Truex Jr. has two straight top-five finishes at the desert oval but this week debuts a new configuration for the one-mile track with the start/finish line now located on the backstretch dogleg.
“It will be interesting to see how it plays out, it’s a lot different,” Truex said. “Particularly on restarts if it gets three, four or five-wide on that dogleg. “It will be different, we will just have to see how different and see how it plays out. The other thing that will be different is qualifying and the way the dogleg comes into play. The way you get your momentum on the opposite side of the track.”