Martin Truex Jr. embraces underdog role in Championship Round

By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service

HOLLYWOOD, Fla.—Does Martin Truex Jr. have a decent chance to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship?

There aren’t many who think so.

In a recent poll of 50 full-time media members and 50 denizens of the Sprint Cup garage, all asked to predict the winner of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Jeff Gordon got 40 votes, defending champion Kevin Harvick 37 and Kyle Busch 20.

That left three votes for Truex, who earned his title eligibility for Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET on NBC) at Homestead-Miami Speedway, with single-car Denver, Colorado-based Furniture Row Racing.

Sitting at the end of the dais at the Diplomat Resort & Spa, with Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick to his right, Truex gave a succinct synopsis of others’ expectations.

“The way I see it, these three next to me are supposed to win the championship, and I’m probably not,” Truex said. “So that’s a pretty cool story in itself.”

True enough, Truex has three career victories at NASCAR’s highest level—compared with Gordon’s 93. But Truex does have a team and personal record 22 top-10 finishes during a breakout 2015 season for the Furniture Row outfit.

Nevertheless, when his stats sit side-by-side with the gaudy numbers posted by his Chase rivals, Truex knows he won’t be at the top of the list of likely title winners.

“There’s been a lot of ups and downs throughout my career,” Truex acknowledged. “I’ve never really been in a position like this before. For a lot of reasons, and I’ve said it since the Chase started, for a lot of reasons, we are the underdog.

“One car team from Denver, rookie crew chief (Cole Pearn), I’ve never raced for a championship in this series, so for a lot of reasons, we are the underdog.”

There are other factors that mitigate against Truex’s chances. On the personal side, Truex’s long-time girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, has been battling ovarian cancer. But the prognosis is encouraging. Pollex is scheduled to have the last of her three remaining chemotherapy treatments in February.

From a competition standpoint, Furniture Row will change manufacturers, from Chevrolet to Toyota, at the end of the season. Though a single-car operation, the team is affiliated with Richard Childress Racing, a Chevrolet team, and that relationship will end with 2015, too.

Nevertheless, when Truex and Pearn began working together this season, the relationship clicked, and a lackluster 2014 campaign gave way to a highly successful 2015.

Just because Truex has embraced the underdog’s role doesn’t mean he’s less motivated to win the championship than any of his rivals.

“We want this more than anything right now,” Truex said. “It’s all or nothing. This is the only thing that matters. Based on past history and just the things that I’ve been through, you never know when you’re going to get an opportunity like this again.

“All we can do is make the most of it and put our best effort out there. The guys have worked hard. They feel confident about what we’re going to have this weekend. It’s a huge deal. We may never get this opportunity again. That’s how big a deal it is to me.”

Furniture Row General Manager Joe Garone doesn’t mind the underdog status—but he doesn’t buy it.

“I don’t know how quite where Martin is on that,” Garone said. “I’ll tell you where I am. I think of the underdog… I like wearing that. I’ll take that.

“I don’t feel like we’re an underdog at all because we have the resources from our owner to get done what we need to get done to win the championship. We have the driver to do it. I can tell you our owner (Barney Visser) expects us to.”

Image: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images

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