DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For the 2018 Monster Series NASCAR Cup season this will be Martin Truex Jr.’s challenge:
Do it all over again.
Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? But it’s not going to be simple. It is going to be difficult.
It is not realistic to think Truex Jr. is going to match the numbers he posted in 2017, when he raced – and pretty much dominated – his way to his first championship.
Truex Jr. won eight races, double his previous career high, notched 19 top-five finishes and 26 among the top 10. He led 2,253 laps.
And in this era of “stage” racing he led the way with 19 stage wins to earn a whopping 438 stage points – plenty to lock him into virtually every stage of the playoffs.
He had never achieved anything like it at any other time in his career.
It’s fair to say Truex Jr.’s emergence as a champion was unexpected. He raced with Furniture Row Racing, a team that once was never mentioned in the same breath as powerhouses Hendrick Motorsports or Roush Fenway Racing.
However, the team, based in Denver, Col., has a technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing – another powerhouse – and obviously made the most of it.
Nevertheless, there are those who consider Truex Jr.’s accomplishment as merely the result of luck – or even a fluke, perhaps.
“It’s easy to say that kind of stuff when you’re on the outside looking in,” Truex Jr. said in a meeting with the media. “You don’t know what somebody is doing, how they’re doing it. It kind of messes with your head.
“For us, we knew exactly what we were doing, we knew exactly how we did it. We just have to try to repeat that.”
The situation now is that however unexpected Truex Jr.’s 2017 season might have been, he will be expected to perform well in 2018. He is considered by many to be a favorite to repeat as champion.
Again, it won’t be easy.
To win consecutive titles is nothing new in NASCAR. Richard Petty did it more than once, for example. Cale Yarborough won three in row from 1976-78 and, astonishingly, Jimmie Johnson won five in succession from 2006 to 2010 en route to his career seven.
Truex Jr. realizes the magnitude of the task facing him.
“It’s pretty crazy to look at the numbers, honestly,” he said. “ It’s pretty ridiculous. It’s going to be tough to beat. It’s going to be tough to match that, for sure.”
But with full confidence in his team Truex Jr. thinks a second title is reachable.
“I think we can do it,” he said. “I feel we could have won 10 or 12 races if things would have gone a little different.
“I think our focus is starting the season off here, figure out where we’re at, go from there. I got a lot of confidence in my team that we can still continue to do some great things.
“Certainly we won’t be happy unless we do.”
Truex Jr. knows he is playing a different role this season. Instead of a co-star he’s now the headliner.
“It’s been a crazy, busy off‑season,” he said. “There has been a lot going on. I haven’t had much time off.
“I think now that the season starts, it’s kind of set in even more what we did last year, how incredible it was, how much it means to us all.
“I feel less pressure, more relaxed, more confident than I’ve ever been. I am excited to start the season, absolutely.
“I mean it’s all just still coming. It’s been pretty amazing.”
It would appear Martin Truex Jr. is prepared to amaze us – again.
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