Texas Motor Speedway

Martin Truex Jr. tries to break TMS winless streak at the AAA Texas 500

Martin Truex Jr. didn’t have time to think about finding his footing when he made the switch to Joe Gibbs Racing for 2019.

He was too busy trying to win his second Monster Energy Cup championship.

That plan is still in play as the series gets ready for its second Round of 8 race in the NASCAR Playoffs Nov. 3 with the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Truex, who is still in the familiar No. 19 Toyota, hasn’t just fit into his new team. He’s established himself as the driver to beat this season despite being on a team that includes other NASCAR superstars Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.

The proof is in the numbers. Despite getting off to a slow start by his standards with no wins in the first eight races of the season, Truex has reeled off a series high six wins this year. That’s one more than Hamlin and two more than Busch, both of whom are also in the Round of 8.

“We all have a lot of respect for each other,” Truex said. “At the end of the day we all want to win. That’s why we push each other to be the best we can be. Having teammates running as well as the ones we do at Joe Gibbs Racing pushes you to do better. It doesn’t matter how good you were last week, all of us want to be the guy. That’s our living, our passion, our life.”

It’s worked out well. Heading into Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway, the Joe Gibbs Racing drivers have accounted for 16 of the 32 wins in the series. Erik Jones, who was eliminated from the playoffs before the Round of 8, accounted for the other one.

Unlike the other three drivers on the team, Truex is trying to win in his first year on the team. The long-time Furniture Row Racing driver made the move to the super team after his team folded. Going from a small team to a mega team was an adjustment, but it’s one that Truex has made look easy.

“Furniture Row as a small team, 74 or 75 employees,” Truex said. “Gibbs is 600. From that standpoint, a lot of people are relying on you to do a good job. As a driver, when you change teams you never know what to expect. You never know how you’re going to get accepted or treated or how you’re going to get along with the majority of the people there. It’s been amazing. Coach (Gibbs) is an unbelievable leader, just a special guy, a great team leader. I feel like part of the family.”

He’d like to end his first year with a nice housewarming present for the team – another title. The 2017 champion will start the Round of 8 second in the standings, four points behind Busch and five head of Hamlin. With all six of his wins coming in the last 24 races, including two in the playoffs, Truex feels like he’s in a good spot.

“I’m definitely optimistic we can win a championship in the first year together,” Truex said. “It’s more different for [crew chief] Cole [Pearn] and the guys who have come over with me. I’m just a driver. Not a lot has changed for me. For those guys a lot has changed. We started the playoffs really strong. I feel good about where we’re at. We’re one of the teams to beat.”

Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage thinks one of the reasons Truex has been so successful this year is that while he’s with a new team, he has some familiar faces on it like his long time crew chief Pearn.

“Keeping them together has ensured a smooth transition,” Gossage said. “It’s not like that started off this season with 28th-place finishes either. It just took a few races and boom it hit. Now they’ve won more races than anybody.”

Adding to that win total at TMS could be a challenge. If Truex is going to need a win at Texas to advance to the Round of 4, he’s going to have to change history. Truex is winless at TMS in 28 starts. Twice he’s started on the pole and 15 times he’s finished in the top 10, but he’s never visited Victory Lane.

He’s well aware of that, especially after Gossage reminded him of it last week at a media event in Frisco saying Truex was past due to win at TMS.

“I just love coming to Texas, “ said Truex, who finished 12th in the spring race. “It’s a good racetrack, great fans. It’s been a tough track for me. I haven’t won at it, but we’ve lead tons of laps. It always seems to slip away. If you can win there, you get a week off and not have to worry about Phoenix going to Final 4.”