Martin Truex Jr. and his Furniture Row Racing team arrived at Charlotte Motor Speedway as the team that had led the most laps at the mile-and-a-half racetracks this season, but had yet to capture a checkered flag. That pattern continued on Sunday in the Coca- Cola 600 as Truex dominated Charlotte’s mile-and-a-half oval on his way to collecting his first win of the season.
Truex began his Memorial Day weekend at Charlotte by putting his Toyota on the pole, which turned out to be just a glimpse of how dominating he would be on race day. Once the green flag dropped he took advantage of his starting position and led the first lap on his way to leading a track record 392 of the 400 laps, and a NASCAR record of 588 miles in a race. The average speed of 160.644 miles per hour was a record for the race as was its duration of 3 hours, 44 minutes, 8 seconds.
The win all but guarantees Truex a spot in the Chase field and furthers strengthens his quest for a multi-year contract with Furniture Row. He was in a similar situation last season and ended up signing a one-year extension that will make him a free agent at the end of the season.
He has made no secret that he wants to get a deal done with team owner Barney Visser. Entering this season Visser and team president Joe Garone made the switch from Chevrolet to Toyota and entered into a technical agreement with Joe Gibbs Racing. It was a big step for a one-car operation that also happens to be the only team that competes in the Sprint Cup Series that is not based in the Charlotte area.
Last season, Visser, Garone, Truex, along with crew chief Cole Pearn were not only able to get in the Chase, but was one of only four teams that made it to the final race of the season with the opportunity to run for the championship. Even with all of the success that the team had, Truex Jr. could not get the long-term deal that he had wanted.
There was no doubt that Truex has the talent to become one of the top stars in the sport, but he has struggled at times in his career because of circumstances that he could not control. He had won two Xfinity Series titles with Dale Earnhardt Inc. before going full time in the Cup Series in 2006. By that time DEI had started to see a decline with its performance and tried to turn things around when it merged with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2009.
He left DEI to join Michael Waltrip Racing in 2010. He experienced some success there, but left after the 2013 season as MWR was having sponsorship problems and had come under fire for trying to alter the finishing order of the fall Richmond race.
Looking back on his stints with both DEI and MWR, Truex said that he had stayed at both places too long and that he needed a place where he and a team could grow together. The results that he and his team have put together this season shows that they have grown into a contender for, not only every checkered flag on the schedule, but also the season’s championship title.
It is the situation that Truex has looked for his entire career and it now has him being mentioned with the top drivers in the series. Visser would like to build on this success by adding a second team, but his first move has to be getting his driver signed to long-term contract.
While it is still early in the season and there has yet to be any announcement of a quality ride opening up for the 2017 season, Truex has put himself in a position where he would be on any owner’s short list for a driver. It could be that the clock is ticking on Visser to get a deal done with Truex.
Event: Axalta “We Paint Winners” 400.
Track: Pocono Raceway (2.5- mile tri-oval, banking Turn One- 14o, Turn Two-8o, Turn Three-6o).
Date: June 5, 1 p.m.
Defending Champion: Martin Truex Jr.