The good news for Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team is that they are going from their worst to their best type of racetrack in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Truex, who finished 18th after being involved in a late-race multicar wreck in Sunday’s Daytona 500, has admitted that superspeedway racing such as Daytona has not been one of his strong suits.
But the next type of track Truex will be competing on -- the 1.54-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway – is one of the main reasons he is the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion.
Seven of his eight wins last season came at a 1.5-mile track, including the final race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway where he captured his first Cup championship.
Truex’s average finish last year in 11 races at 1.5-mile tracks was 2.4. In the last six 1.5-mile races of the season, he had five victories and one runner-up. The four 1.5-mile races he didn’t win last year were Atlanta (finished 8th), the first Charlotte race (finished 3rd) and the two Texas races (finished 8th and 2nd).
“After how we ran in Daytona, we are definitely looking forward to going to a downforce track,” said Truex. “While Daytona is the biggest and most prestigious race to win, the season actually starts – at least in our case – at a downforce track. Atlanta should give us a good indication how we fare against the competition.”
Truex has a theory why his team was so successful on the 1.5-mile tracks in 2017.
“We not only had one of the fastest cars all the time, we executed well, qualified well and got those stage points early,” explained Truex. “I just feel like across the board, from our whole team's perspective, we executed really well. We didn't make many mistakes. We didn't give anybody an opportunity to pounce. There were times where guys were as fast as us and there were times when guys were faster, but they weren't more consistent.”
Truex, who calls Atlanta one of his five favorite tracks, has been a contender the past three years in the Folds of Honor/QuikTrip 500 with top-10 finishes of sixth, seventh and eighth.
“I just can’t wait to drive our No. 78 Bass Pro Shops/5-hour ENERGY Toyota at Atlanta,” said Truex. “I am hoping we will be as strong as we were last year on the mile-and-a-half tracks.”
Truex’s crew chief, Cole Pearn, is also looking forward to Atlanta.
“Obviously Atlanta is the first real test to know where you’re at and where you stack up with everybody so it’s a pretty important race,” said Pearn. “It’s a cool track, and at the same time, really different. It has super low grip with old worn out pavement.”
Pearn added, “We’ve been close at Atlanta. We had a clutch go last year while running third. The year before we were running first or second most of the day but had a bad late restart. Overall, Atlanta has been a good track for us. But you don’t know early in the year how everything is going to go. So it’s very hard to predict.”