Last year’s championship came down to decisions made in the hauler before the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway ever started. Gambling on mid- to long-runs, Martin Truex Jr. set up his car for durability. An incident involving Brad Keselowski and Daniel Suarez set up a 15-lap dash to the finish and allowed Joey Logano to take the lead on Lap 256 of 267.
Truex simply couldn't catch him in the time allotted and was forced to settle for second-place in the standings.
Truex was in the hunt for the entire race. He finished fifth in Stage 1, fourth in Stage 2, and led 20 laps – most of which came in the closing minutes of the race. In some ways it was payback for 2017 when he wrested the lead from his corporate teammate Kyle Busch 50 laps from the end and motored to the checkers.
Another late-race caution bunched the field that year and allowed Busch to finish a little more than a half-second behind.
His victory in 2017 closed out one of the most dominant performances on 1.5-mile tracks that we’ve seen in a long while and may not see again. That season, Truex won six of the 10 races on 1.5-milers and swept the top-eight. In nearly all of those races, he qualified on the first five rows and was never out of contention for the victory.
He picked up where he left off in 2018, sweeping the top 10 in all but one race when he sustained crash damage. All but one of those top-10s were also top-fives. Combining the two seasons and heading into the first two races of 2019, Truex earned 23 top-10s in 24 starts on 1.5-mile tracks. Eight of these were victories and only four were outside the top five.
He has not been nearly as dominant since March of this year, however. He finished 12th at Texas Motor Speedway in the O’Reilly 500 and has been hit-or-miss since with only two top-fives and a pair of 19th-place finishes. His two top-fives were victories, however, at Charlotte Motor Speedway this summer and Las Vegas Motor Speedway to kick off the playoffs.
That is where Truex’s strength lies at the moment. After a seesaw regular season, he stepped up his game in the playoffs with wins at Vegas, Richmond Raceway, and Martinsville Speedway. The only time in the last nine races that he finished outside the top-seven was at Talladega Superspeedway when he sustained crash damage.
The odds are good that Truex will earn a third consecutive top-three at Homestead this week. Whether he wins or not will come down to track position and making the right call in the hauler before the race this time around.