O’Reilly Auto Parts 500

Martin Truex Jr. making up for lost time


Martin Truex Jr. probably has a few more fans after his win at Dover last weekend, and definitely more since the season started. He is performed at the level that brings back memories of past dynasties in sports where opponents knew they had to be at their best for a chance to win.

Truex left Dover having won his fourth race in the past 17 Sprint Cup events, and he did it in convincing fashion, leading 187 of the 400 laps and with a margin of victory of 7.527 seconds on second-place Kyle Busch.

The leader in laps led this season, Truex has paced the field for an amazing 19.1 percent of all laps in Sprint Cup. For a Furniture Row team that made a switch from Chevrolet to Toyota in the offseason, he continues to make a statement that while he was among the four finalists in 2015, he is the favorite for 2016.

"I guess right now it's just our time," Truex said. "Throughout the summer, we led so many laps and had so many great race cars and so many great weekends that things would happen [and we'd lose].

"Sometimes it was just rotten luck, sometimes it was mistakes or just circumstances that didn't play out. But I think that the biggest thing is we just kept our heads in the game. We stayed focused on the things that truly matter, and when all that bad luck went away, here we are. I mean, it's just been amazing."

Jimmie Johnson, who led 90 laps in the race but ended up seventh, had a car that could rival, and likely beat, Truex. But his jack man jumped off the wall too early on a pit stop with 122 laps remaining, forcing Johnson to come down pit road under green and never getting the caution to get caught back up.

"We just really had a flawless day," Truex crew chief Cole Pearn said. "We're hitting on all cylinders right now. Every track we go to, even the tracks we haven't been good in the past, we've been pretty good at."

Truex figured there would be a caution, and he'd have his lead wiped out. That never happened.

But the six-point lead he had over Busch in the first round has now been wiped away, with all 12 drivers who advanced to the quarterfinal round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup even at 3,000 points.

That means Austin Dillon, the last driver to advance with an 11-point edge on Tony Stewart, has the same amount of points as Truex. The same is true for the others who advanced: Kyle Busch (second at Dover), Chase Elliott (third), Brad Keselowski (fourth), Matt Kenseth (fifth), Joey Logano (sixth), Johnson, Dillon (eighth), Denny Hamlin (ninth), Carl Edwards (14th), Kurt Busch (15th) and Kevin Harvick (37th). Stewart, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Larson and Chris Buescher failed to advance.

While the 12 quarterfinalists have the same points, Truex has had a better season than pretty much anyone else this year. He has four wins (tied with Busch and Keselowski for the most), but three of those wins have come in the past five races, including two in the Chase.

After the next three races, Truex could look back and know that while he has four wins, it could be for nothing, as what happens in the next three races will determine whether he remains in the championship hunt.

The team doesn't feel as if it should lose a step.

"We've been good all year, so I don't really know how you can say we've peaked too early," Pearn said. "At the end of the day, this was kind of an icing-on”‘the”‘cake win. We didn't need it per se, but you're not going to turn it down.

"Martin has had a lot of wins taken away from him in his career, so to be able to make up for lost time in a way is good. You've just got to keep it rolling. We didn't do anything extravagant today. We brought a good car, we made solid pit stops, we never made any mistakes, and we won."

That lost time was several seasons where he could have earned more than one win but never had a season where he won more than once. He entered this year with just three career victories.

"I've always had enough [success] throughout my career to kind of lean on those times where I thought maybe it wasn't going the way I needed it to go; where I didn't have the things I needed to have to compete with some of these guys," Truex said. "I just continued to drive and push and never give up.

"[I'm] lucky enough to get with a great race team. It started out rough for us, but we continued to work, and we all worked in the same direction and believed in each other." 

About the author

The Texas Motor Speedway Media Relations Department is located on the 6th floor of The Speedway Club outside of Turn 1 of the speedway. 

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