Confidence is high for Martin Truex Jr. after win in Playoff opener

20 Sep 2019 Reid Spencer - NASCAR Wire Service
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Confidence is high for Martin Truex Jr. after win in Playoff opener Ann M. Wilson for Speedway Digest

Martin Truex Jr. has ample reason for optimism with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series arriving at Richmond Raceway for the second race of the Playoffs.

First of all, Truex won last Sunday’s opener at Las Vegas, breaking a string of inconsistent races that seemingly had stalled the momentum built earlier in the season, when the driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota won four times in eight events.

Second, Truex is the most recent winner at Richmond, where he won on a short track for the first time on April 13. And if Truex and his team are finding form as the Playoffs begin, it’s not the first time. In both 2016 and his championship season in 2017, Truex won the Playoff opener when it was held at Chicagoland Speedway.

So if the victory at Las Vegas was not a major surprise, it was nevertheless welcome.

“Well, I think first of all, it was good timing,” Truex said on Friday at Richmond, site of Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “We had five or six races in a row that we felt like we were doing the right things, and our cars were fast and we felt like we were performing well, and we were not getting really good finishes. We had a lot of stuff happen.

“So it’s nice when those things kind of go away and you can say, ‘OK, yeah we were doing the right things.’ It’s a good confidence booster. It came at a good time. I think the bonus points are really critical. We didn’t finish where we wanted to in the regular season standings.

“We lost a few spots through that stretch there of things happening to us, so bonus points were huge. Just good timing to start the Playoffs just for the confidence for the whole group, not just me or (crew chief) Cole (Pearn), but for the whole group.”

Apparently, that confidence carried over into Friday’s Cup practice. Truex topped the speed chart in Happy Hour with a lap at 121.885 mph.

DANIEL HEMRIC WEIGHING OPTIONS AFTER LOSING RIDE WITH RCR

Daniel Hemric got the bad news on Monday. Richard Childress Racing declined to pick up his option for the 2020 season.

After one year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Hemric is looking for a new ride—and he hopes he can find one with a proven record of winning races.

“I just want to race. I said to one of my social posts on the way here that the best thing for the soul is to get back into a race car.”

Given the level of support and the interest of potential owners after the announcement of his release, Hemric should be able to do just that.

“I’m just thankful that I’ve had opportunities already come up and people reach out to contact me about driving their race cars,” said Hemric, who was third fastest in final practice for Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “It makes you know that you’re desired. That’s from Trucks, to Xfinity, to Cup. I don’t care what it is, I’m going to do it and do it at a high level and put myself in a position to win races. 

“People always talk about not winning races, hasn’t won a NASCAR race. On the flip side of that, I’ve said time and time again, you can go back to any interview I’ve ever done, I feel like I’ve always been a part of a build process. I’ve always been coming into race teams that need the work and as a driver, I’ve always had to work on myself as well. I kind of thrive under that.”

But at this point in his career, the 27-year-old from Kannapolis, N.C., hopes he can catch on with a team that has an established recent track record. He has nine more races in the No. 8 RCR Chevrolet to state his case.

“There’s no better way to go out and change the way you feel then to perform,” Hemric said. “We’re coming back here for the second time and all of us know – I’m no different than anybody else. We’re all out here fighting every single week for your job.

“It just so happens that everybody knows I’m out of mine.”

DENNY HAMLIN EXPECTS TO BE A CONTENDER AT HIS HOME TRACK

Virginia native Denny Hamlin has three victories at Richmond Raceway, his home track. He has led 1,659 laps at the .75-mile short track, more than at any other Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series venue.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Hamlin expects to run away with Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), even though he posted the fastest 10-consecutive-lap average (118.289 mph) in Friday’s final practice. 

“I felt pretty good with it, Hamlin said of the performance of his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. “I thought that we had a few decent runs. There are five or six other guys that are right there pretty close. I don’t anticipate a runaway. If we do, it will be a great change of pace. Just looking back at the spring race here, we had to start last due to a qualifying deal, and it took the entire race to get up to the top-five. 

“It’s amazing how much aerodynamics play on such a short track like this. It’s very tough to pass. Not impossible, but it’s tough. If you get in the back of the pack, if you make a mistake, you will not win this race. Nobody with a speeding penalty will come back and win this race. You can mark that down. Or any pit road penalty.”

A victory at Richmond would mean more to Hamlin than automatic advancement into the Round of 12 of the Playoffs. The track continues to hold special significance for the 38-year-old driver, who won his first Richmond race in 2009.

“For the longest time, I had the date of my first Richmond win on my shoes for probably five or six years, so it was definitely significant being that it is in the hometown,” Hamlin said.

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