Notes of Interest

● Where We Stand: The New Jersey native heads to Darlington (S.C.) Raceway second in the driver standings with 438 points, 29 behind leader Kyle Larson. Three of the four Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) entries are currently inside the top-10 in the standings heading to the 13th points-paying race of the season, with Denny Hamlin fourth and Ty Gibbs eighth.

● Up Front: All four JGR Toyota Camry XSE drivers are among the leaders in total laps led this season. Larson’s 634 laps led tops the list for the Cup Series, followed by Hamlin (606), Truex (437) and Gibbs (201) in second, third and fourth, respectively. Bell is 10th on the list with 125 laps led.

● Party like it’s 2016: With Auto-Owners Insurance as primary sponsor at Darlington this weekend, Truex’s throwback paint scheme will take him back to his Southern 500 win at Darlington in 2016. The memorable Auto-Owners Insurance scheme saw Truex lead 28 laps en route to his first of two Southern 500 wins.

● Truex has two wins, four top-five finishes and 10 top-10s and has led a total of 914 laps in 23 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at Darlington. Truex’s average Darlington finish is 13.4.

● Truex notched his most recent Darlington win in May 2021, when he dominated the race and led 248 laps en route to his second victory at the 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval.

● While he doesn’t like to play favorites, Truex certainly excels at tracks with worn-out surfaces, where driver skill is key to managing the tires and the racecar over the course of a long race. At four such tracks, Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, Homestead-Miami Speedway, and Darlington, Truex has six wins, 24 top-five finishes and 46 top-10s, and has led 2,209 laps.

● Looking for 35: Truex’s win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon last July was his most recent Cup Series win, the 34th of his career, tying him with 2004 Cup Series champion Kurt Busch for 25th on the all-time Cup Series win list.

● Ahead at this Stage: Truex has accumulated 63 stage wins since the beginning of the stage era in 2017. He is the only driver with 10 or more stage sweeps, with his latest sweep coming at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn last August. Truex scored his second stage win of the season at Dover (Del.) Motor Speedway two weekends ago, leading the field across the line at the end of Stage 1.

Martin Truex Jr., Driver of the No. 19 Auto-Owners Insurance Toyota Camry XSE

What kind of an afternoon is 400 miles at Darlington?

“It’s quite the challenge. I love going there. I’m still mad about the Southern 500 last year, leading late and having the engine issues, so a little bit of redemption, hopefully, this weekend. It’s been so good to us and we’ve only been able to win there twice. I feel like we should have won there seven or eight times over the years. You’ve got to race the racetrack, but somehow with these cars you’ve got to find a way to get track position, as well. It’s very difficult to do but I’m really looking forward to the challenge. I can’t thank our friends at Auto-Owners Insurance enough for being along with us yet again this weekend. It’s going to be a fun weekend, for sure.”

Does it take a driver a long time to get used to how to drive Darlington and get used to its nuances?

“I think it just suits some guys, and others it doesn’t. For me, I feel like it’s about how I like to drive my car and the feel I need for the long run. For as long as I remember, I don’t really know what I do differently than everyone else, and I don’t know if my team does, either, it’s just the way that it happens. Even with all the technology today, sometimes you just can’t pinpoint exactly what it is that makes us good there. You can see the SMT and see exactly what a driver is doing, but there’s more to connecting that feel and those inputs than you can imagine. It just suits me, and I really enjoy it. Looking forward to this weekend with our Auto-Owners Insurance Camry.”

Some drivers say they love Darlington and others say they just can’t get a grasp on it. Is it just tires, or much more, to be good at Darlington?

“It’s very unique, I love it. It’s really hard on tires and hard to get your car working good. For me, I’ve had a lot of really good runs there and have won a bunch of races and have been really strong in the last four years, so I really enjoy it. I had bad cars there years ago and I can see how that could be just miserable if you don’t have a good car. Fun track and a place I really like.”

How technical of a track is Darlington?

“It’s definitely really technical. It’s a track that is really fast but the two ends of the track are completely different, which makes the crew chiefs scratch their heads. It’s hard to get your car working right on both ends, so you have to compromise. It’s never going to be perfect. It’s never going to be comfortable, but you’ve got to figure out a way to be comfortable with it and that’s what I love about Darlington. You are on the ragged edge so much and the tires wear off the car so bad on the long run that you are just on ice. You are sliding and trying to keep the right rear from dragging against the wall and you are just sliding everywhere. I just think it’s so much fun. It’s been a great track for me, I think, just because I like it so much. Hoping we can have a great run there this weekend with our Auto-Owners Insurance Camry and pick up where we left off in the fall with having such a strong car.”

How important is qualifying these days with track position at such a premium?

“I think, these days, qualifying is important everywhere we go. The whole field is closer together than they’ve ever been. It makes passing more difficult and you definitely want to get a good pit stall, which is also important at a lot of the places we go. Track position is a big deal and, with this car so far, that seems to be magnified a bit more, as well. It’s all part of it, though, and you take what you have and make the best of it each week.”