Kevin Harvick snapped his career-long drought last fall at Texas Motor Speedway. The veteran driver finally won in his 30th Cup start at Texas.
Who finished runner-up to Harvick? The man who went on to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup championship — Martin Truex Jr.
With Harvick finally getting a coveted win at TMS, Truex now holds the dubious distinction of “best driver to never win at Texas.”
But Truex is one of the favorites to win next Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. Last fall marked his second career runner-up finish at the track. He also has 14 top 10s in 25 Cup starts.
“I feel really good about going there,” said Truex, who has 16 career Cup wins. “We’ve definitely been successful there and led laps and feel like we’ve had a shot to win quite a few races actually. It just, for whatever reason, we haven’t been able to put it all together. It’s been one of those places that’s been tough to get that first win at. Hopefully this time around will be our first time.”
Truex is as strong of an option as any driver.
This is a driver who won a career-high eight races in his championship season a year ago, and is carrying that into 2018. Truex has had top-five finishes in the last five races, including a win at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. two weeks ago.
Truex has been the pole-sitter the past three Cup races too.
“It’s definitely been a good start to the year,” Truex said. “Getting that first win out of the way in California was big for all of us, just to confirm that we’re in a good place and the things we’re working on and doing are working. It definitely gives us confidence.
“Hopefully we can continue to put down good finishes, keep that consistency and hopefully continue to put some more wins together.”
Nobody has found a path to Victory Lane better than Truex has in recent years. It’s been quite a journey to the top of the sport too.
Truex won just three races over his first 10 full-time seasons at the Cup level. He bounced between teams, but has found a home at Furniture Row Racing.
In fact, it’s a remarkable story within the sport to see a car from Furniture Row emerge as the best over powerhouses such as Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske.
“I don’t think Martin is any different of a driver. Everybody knew that he had great skills,” TMS president Eddie Gossage said. “Unfortunately our sport takes more than just one person’s talent and drive and effort. The teams that he was with before didn’t have the resources. He’s the perfect fit for Furniture Row. I think to outsiders it was a bit of a surprise to see him win it all, but I’m not sure that was a surprise season to everyone in the sport.
“Martin has always been totally underestimated.”
Not anymore. Martin and his No. 78 Toyota team have gone from the hunter to the hunted. They’re the car and team to beat.
Truex and his crew are likely going to be even more dangerous coming off a bye week. This is a team that hasn’t really been able to catch its breath in the euphoria of winning the championship.
Truex’s schedule has been fuller than ever with appearances, and an off week was a welcomed sight for Easter weekend.
“I’m definitely looking forward to the off weekend to not do a whole lot honestly,” Truex said. “Spend some time at home, fishing and things like that. It’s definitely good to have a break and regroup and relax a little bit.”
With their batteries recharged, it would come as no surprise to see the No. 78 car visit Victory Lane for the first time in Texas.
Texas, for whatever reason, has given some of the top drivers headaches over the years. Truex hasn’t won in 25 career starts. Harvick didn’t win until his 30th start. Famed driver Jeff Gordon didn’t win until his 17th start.
“I really don’t know why that is,” Gossage said. “I remember talking with Jeff Gordon about that all the time. It’s on driver’s minds, whether they admit it or not, they know the records and where they’ve won. In Martin’s case, you know it sure stands out in his mind.
“But as well as he ran on the mile-and-a-half tracks last year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him win next Sunday.”