Not much has changed on the track for Martin Truex Jr. But then again, it has.
The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t alter his approach. He shows up at the track, hangs around, walks to his No. 19 Toyota Camry, and goes to race.
“I think of everyone in our sport, the drivers have been affected the least,” Truex says. “It’s really been easy to deal with, to be honest with you.”
When Truex races, his experience matters now more than ever. Drivers aren’t practicing, which is difficult to deal with, he said, and there aren’t any qualifiers before NASCAR Cup Series races.
If experience has anything to do with his two races at Pocono Raceway this weekend, then Truex is in good shape. He has two victories and 11 top-10 finishes at Pocono in his career.
That same experience has Truex off to a strong start his year. He’s seventh in the Cup standings. His biggest moment came when he won at Martinsville Speedway in Ridgeway, Va., on June 10, and clinched a playoff berth.
“Getting that first win of the season is always very special and important,” Truex said Monday. “It gives you so much confidence, so much momentum about the things you’re doing.”
Not many drivers adjust to Pocono better than Truex. He said that even though NASCAR’s first back-to-back Cup Series races will happen at “the Tricky Triangle,” the track will be different for each race.
He called the difference in the three corners “the challenge.”
“Sometimes, depending on where the sun is at, one corner will lose traction and another corner will gain traction,” Truex said. “Next thing you know, you have to change your whole setup to make your car work in those two corners equally well.”
“It’s a place that changes a lot day-to-day, week-to-week,” Truex added. “It’s the weather, it’s the temperature outside, it’s the clouds, it’s the wind, you name it. There are so many factors in there.”
Truex grew up about 80 miles southeast of Philadelphia, in Stafford Township, N.J. He’s a big fan of the Eagles, Phillies, and Flyers, and will be rooting for them when they return to action.
“It’s been a weird year with no sports, and luckily for us to be back racing, it’s been huge for our sport,” Truex said. “I think with all the things going on in the world, sports are kind of an escape. It’s a time to forget about all the stuff going on and enjoy yourself for a couple of hours.”
NASCAR has been in the news a lot lately. First, Black driver Bubba Wallace called for the banishment of the Confederate flag. A couple of days later, NASCAR banned it from all of its tracks.
On Sunday, a team member found a noose in Wallace’s garage stall at Talladega Superspeedway in Lincoln, Ala. An FBI investigation concluded that Wallace wasn’t the target of a hate crime.
“I think we’re all in this thing together, to move forward and show everybody that anybody is welcomed and everybody is going to feel comfortable,” Truex said. “And if they don’t, [NASCAR] is going to do something about it.”
Truex already has a spot in NASCAR’s 10-race playoff in September. He’s no stranger to the event. He won the NASCAR Cup Series in 2017. He has been in the Championship 4 race the last three years, and has back-to-back runner-up finishes in the last two.
But nine drivers have more top-five finishes than Truex this year. Eight have more in the top 10. It might sound concerning, but it will be no surprise if he sneaks his way back into another Championship 4 race.