Truex stayed out, and as the only lead-lap car with old tires, he easily led the first lap of overtime in the Quaker State 400 and probably would have cruised to the victory even if an accident didn’t come out to end the race under caution.
Sure, that says something about tire wear, track position and the ability to pass on a repaved track such as Kentucky Speedway.
But it also says something about Truex, his Furniture Row Racing team and in some ways could be a predictor of what the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs could look like.
“I think he’s peaking right now,” team owner Barney Visser said. “And … for the last year, I’ve thought he was as good as anyone in the garage.
“Now I think he’s better than anyone in the garage. You saw what he did on that last restart, putting it down in Turn 1. He’s just that good.”
Truex loves his team for many reasons, the great cars and owner being part of it. It was Visser who told him when Truex’s girlfriend Sherry Pollex was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer in 2014 that Truex could take the remainder of the season off and not worry about his ride.
He didn’t miss a race, but the message resonated with Truex. Pollex has had a recurrence — not a surprise, as Pollex has said 80 percent of people with her type of cancer have a recurrence and die within five years.
“We found out a while ago about it,” Truex said. “She went in this weekend to have some surgery done.
“Everything went perfectly good, went as planned. I’m going to bring her home tomorrow. I’m excited to get home and see her, and everything is going great.”
Truex was on the phone with Pollex minutes after the victory, a win that provided another boost to Truex’s championship hopes.
With a current “playoff point” edge of 12 on his nearest competitor, Truex could start each of the playoff rounds with a hefty lead. This year NASCAR split up races into two stages — generally at the quarter mark and halfway mark — and then the finish, all of which count for playoff points. And maybe the only thing that would bring the field closer to him would be Homestead-Miami Speedway, the championship race and the only one in the playoffs where those points don’t carry over.
If Truex can do at Homestead what he did when the field finally was brought back to his bumper Saturday night at Kentucky, he’ll hoist his first NASCAR Cup title.
“I would say that [a championship] wouldn’t change me, wouldn’t change who I am or it wouldn’t really change my life, but it would be a hell of an accomplishment for my career,” Truex said.
“We’re going to try our best. I feel like we have a good shot at it. We’ve consistently been a front-runner the last couple years, and hopefully that continues. We’ll do our best.”
He also has had some good fortune. Truex certainly got a nice push from Kyle Larson on that restart to get the jump he needed over Kyle Busch. But he obviously had the best car, leading 152 laps (Busch led 112) and sweeping both stages and the race.
“Martin was super fast and has been really, really fast all year long,” Larson said. “I think we’ve been second best to him, but he’s in a whole other league right now.”
That is not hyperbole. Even though Larson leads the series standings by one point over Truex, Truex is the only driver who has accomplished the stage and race sweep, first doing it at Las Vegas early in the season and now again at Kentucky. His number of race wins (three) matches Jimmie Johnson for the series lead, but his 13 stage wins is nine more than any other driver.
“[This new playoff-point system] kind of played into our wheelhouse a little bit, just kind of played into what we’ve been doing the last couple years,” said Truex, who has led 257 more laps than any other Cup driver this year.
Truex has carried that momentum throughout the past three seasons. After a miserable first year at Denver-based Furniture Row, he has eight wins since 2015. He had two in his first eight years as a Cup driver.
“When you have these kinds of runs and you go back in to Denver and into the shop, all the guys that have been pouring their guts into it are just super hyped up, and it’s a good way to carry momentum into the rest of the races here leading into the playoffs,” said team general manager Joe Garone.
The team has thrived with Truex as its driver. He just never has meshed as well with a team as he has at Furniture Row. His crew chief, Cole Pearn, helped convince the team to hire Truex as its driver. Truex has full confidence in Pearn; when Pearn told him to stay out on that caution heading into NASCAR overtime, Truex knew he had a car that possibly could hold off others with fresher tires.
“This is very, very big to be able to do what we did,” Truex said. “I think this was probably the best car I’ve ever had in my entire career.
“I can never recall saving fuel [during a stage] and pulling away from everybody before, so it was pretty amazing. Just props to my team and everything they’re doing, and everything is going good for us right now, so we’ll just try to keep that momentum rolling.”