By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
Many are considering 2016 a career-year for 36-year-old Martin Truex Jr., but I believe after an incredible victory in the Bojangles’ Southern 500 on Sunday, that he’s just getting started.
Truex has been fast virtually everywhere he has unloaded in 2016, and with Sunday’s win at Darlington, he has now crossed two crown jewel events from his bucket list. He of course led 392 of the 400 laps in the Coca-Cola 600 earlier this year as well. Truex was also within about an inch of winning this year’s Daytona 500 as well.
When asked what it meant to win two of NASCAR’s most prestigious races in the same year, Truex had an emphatic answer.
“I guess it means this team is pretty damn good,” Truex boasted.
Over the past two seasons, the driver from Mayetta, New Jersey who’s career appeared to be heading toward fizzling out, has turned things around in a big way. In fact, I now regard him as one of the best drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage, and honestly the statistics are starting to agree with me.
Here are the drivers with the most top-10 finishes since the start of the 2015 season:
- Kevin Harvick – 48
- Joey Logano – 45
- Brad Keselowski – 41
- Kurt Busch – 37
- Denny Hamlin – 34
- Martin Truex Jr. – 33
- Jimmie Johnson – 32
- Kyle Busch – 31
- Carl Edwards – 30
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. – 28
Truex, who drives for the single-car Furntiure Row Racing organization, has the sixth-highest amount of top-10s of anyone over the past two seasons. That’s down-right impressive, especially when you factor in all of the bad luck he’s had this season which had foiled many other great runs.
After winning on Sunday, Truex explained that bad luck or not, he and his team never lost their confidence.
“We never lost confidence I don’t think. We’ve been one of the fastest, if not the fastest car, all summer long and everywhere we’ve been and we’ve had a lot of rotten luck, but it was worth having all that luck if that’s what it takes to get a Southern 500 trophy.”
Many drivers have put together solid seasons with top-10 finishes recently — Ryan Newman in 2014 comes to mind — but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are a true force to be reckoned with on the race track. The true measure of the strength of a driver in my opinion is laps led, and Truex is right around the top in that category as well over the past two seasons.
Only Harvick, Kyle Busch, Logano and Keselowski have led more laps since the beginning of the 2015 season than Truex. After Darlington, Truex has led a grand total of 1,608 laps since the 2015 Daytona 500.
In just four years, Truex’s career has been the ultimate roller coaster ride. In 2013, he was the pleasant surprise who won at a road course for Michael Waltrip Racing. Later that year he was at the center of controversy when his teammate at the time, Clint Bowyer, crashed on purpose to get him into the Chase. As a result, not only did Truex end up not making the Chase, but he lost his sponsor and ride at season’s end.
A year later, Truex struggled mightily in his move to Furniture Row Racing, scoring just five top-10s over the entire 2014 season. In 2015 though, Truex became the feel-good story of the year. Driving while his long-time girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, was battling ovarian cancer, Truex won in emotional fashion at Pocono to secure himself a spot in the Chase. Now in 2016, Truex has cemented himself as one of the greatest drivers in the sport today.
What a wild ride it’s been, but where does Truex go from here? Only time will tell, but with a race team who is partnered with the always strong Joe Gibbs Racing, and a talented crew chief in Cole Pearn, the sky appears to be the limit for the driver of the No. 78.