By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season for the full-time drivers in the series leading into February’s 61st annual running of the Daytona 500.
Years in Cup: 15
Career Wins: 19
Biggest Accomplishment: 2017 Cup Series Champion
A novel couldn’t told quite the tale that Martin Truex, Jr.’s fascinating NASCAR career has gone through his entire career. This past season, Truex came into 2018 with an all-time high in confidence and poised for a strong title defense.
While that remained true, it was a twist and turn saga that seemed to top its predecessor. The best way to describe last season is a famous Jim McKay line, “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”
Truex, his crew chief Cole Pearn, and Barney Visser’s Furniture Row Racing had an entire season based on that iconic pop cultural line. The once underdogs were progressing to become a dynasty after scoring four convincing victories at four dynamic circuits in Fontana, Pocono, Sonoma and Kentucky. They also racked up 21 top-10s, 20 of which being top-fives that led Truex to a 10.7 average finish, which tied him with Joey Logano in third.
However, those amazing numbers were far from the main story of Truex’s title defense, far more than finishing runner-up to Logano in the final standings, the best points finish that the reigning champion failed to repeat since Kevin Harvick in 2015. It’s perhaps the biggest headline of the entire NASCAR season which was the September 4th announcement of Furniture Row Racing ceasing operations after the 2018 season.
This put the entire No. 78 Toyota under the microscope for the rest of the season as to how they’ll react and perform. More specifically, during the playoffs as they were already locked in, thanks to those four wins.
Truex’s playoff run was topsy turvy, and in most cases, he got the short straw in three of those races. Beginning at the Roval, Truex’s bid of becoming the new road course king ended with contact by Jimmie Johnson, denying him a win and showed his displeasure by turning the seven-time champion on the cool down lap. This showed a different side of Truex that several fans didn’t resonated too well, but the No. 78 team moved on, still in contention for a championship bid.
Fast forward to Martinsville, another chance of giving Visser one last win was annulled after Logano’s bump and run led to fender bashing at the line, leaving Truex angry, a bridesmaid once again on short tracks, and declared war on the aggressive driver.
“We raced him all clean. We passed him clean all day long and just out ran him in the long run,” Truex after battling Logano at Martinsville. “I pretty much had the feeling going to the backstretch that that was going to happen and there was nothing I could do about it. It sucks, but that’s the way it goes. I can promise you I won’t forget what he did.”
Truex would get has chance for revenge on Logano at the championship-deciding Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead, where he and Logano battled it out on the final restart. Unfortunately for the 38-year-old, he lost the battle and war to the 28-year-old.
Like Blue Max Racing, who won the championship in 1989 with driver Rusty Wallace and shut down after 1990, FRR’s bittersweet season ended in agony. With that, a 13-year journey that Visser has been through came to a close, leaving the sport with 18 wins, three Championship 4 appearances, and a championship to his name.
Despite not repeating as champion, Truex, who began racing for FRR since 2014, can’t express his gratefulness towards the team that made him from being the guy who was stripped from a playoff berth the year before to NASCAR’s “Big Three.”
“You know, to go from a two-race winner to a 19-race winner, a championship, fourth in points, a second in points, it’s just been amazing,” said Truex. “Everything about it has been great. Everything about it has been the best thing I’ve ever been a part of.”
One chapter has ended, but another is about to begin as he and Pearn will move on to Joe Gibbs Racing, piloting the No. 19 Toyota Camry, with sponsors such as Bass Pro Shops and Auto-Owners Insurance coming with him to start his 14th full-season.
When asked about his future, he felt confident that he’ll deliver as other drivers such as Matt Kenseth (2013) and Carl Edwards (2015), and even his new teammates Kyle Busch (2008) and Denny Hamlin (2006) before him, provided instant success in their first season at JGR.
“You know, I feel good about my future and going to a great place, and I know we’ll have more success. But it’s going to be different,” said Truex. “You know, it’s going to be a different team, a different cast of characters, and these guys were a special group, and I’m very thankful to get to work with all of them.
“A few are coming with us, but the ones that aren’t I wish them the best, and we’ll be friends forever. It’s just been a good ride. It’s been a good run, and I hate to see it come to an end, but everything ends somewhere and things change.”