Martin Truex Jr. gets by with a little help from his friend, Erik Jones
For the previous three seasons, Martin Truex Jr. was like a lone wolf with Furniture Row Racing, its sole driver in the NASCAR Cup Series.
At times it was tough, like 2014, his first year with Furniture Row, when he endured his worst Cup season. He finished 24th in the standings, failing to win and earned just one top-five and five top 10s.
When the team affiliated with Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing in 2016, things got markedly better for the driver of the No. 78. He earned a career-best four wins, as well as eight top-fives and 17 top 10s.
Even though Truex and his team were receiving extensive help from JGR and Toyota, he still was going it alone as Furniture Row’s sole driver.
That changed this season, with the addition of Erik Jones in Furniture Row’s No. 77 Toyota. And the results have definitely helped Truex.
He’s won one of the first six races (Las Vegas), the only Toyota driver to do so.
Truex also has two top-fives, three top 10s and is ranked third in the Cup standings heading into this weekend’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at the repaved Texas Motor Speedway.
While JGR is still helping Truex, the addition of Jones has also been significant to the latter’s success this season.
“Yeah, it’s something we do every week, looking at data and things,” Truex said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway. “You know, I say nothing’s really changed. That’s really a compliment to him (Erik Jones) and to his team because he’s done such a good job, they’ve done such a good job.
“You’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, he’s a rookie,’ but he’s doing good and everything’s fine. It’s really impressive to watch how those guys do it. He goes to race tracks and it seems like he’s been there before. I guess I’m kind of playing it off as not much has changed when it’s really kind of a huge deal, you know, for those guys.
“It’s a huge compliment to them just by being able to say it’s not a big deal for them. So, yeah, it’s been cool. But all that data sharing stuff, I mean, he knows what he’s doing. He knows what he wants most importantly. He knows what he’s looking for. He feels the car out well. In our debriefs and things, he really kind of knows what he’s talking about. It’s real easy to buy into his information and use it, if needed. It’s been good.”
It’s also been good for Truex when it comes to the new stages format this season. He’s won four of the first 12 stages, garnering 63 points along the way, leaving him 16 points behind stage points leader Chase Elliott.
While other teams may have struggled early in the season getting used to the new format, Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn went in a different direction, looking at stage racing as business as usual.
“I think it’s really not doing anything different, but consistently running up front, leading laps and trying to perform well is kind of what the stage points system rewards,” Truex said. “We were able to do that last year. We’re hopeful this year it would pay off – so far it has.
“Certainly we’ve had a few weeks here and there where we haven’t been quite as good as we wanted to. I think overall the start to the season has been solid. Need to find a little more consistency, but all in all the stage racing has gone well, it’s been fun, added a little kink to things. Fortunately for us, we’ve been able to get some points out of it, so it’s been good.”
As for Pearn, he’s embraced working the stages into his race strategy atop the pit box.
“Cole’s always thinking of ways to find advantages, no matter what the situation,” Truex said. “You dangle some points out there in front of him, he’s going to try to figure out a way to get ‘em.
“For the most part it’s really just been pretty straightforward as far as if you’re running up front, you’re in position to take advantage of those stages. I think Martinsville last weekend was the first time we’ve actually kind of gambled on one of them to get that first stage win.
“We weren’t the best car. Some guys had pit road penalties. We stayed out. It worked out – we got that first stage win. That’s the first time we’ve kind of done something a little different just to try to get ‘em, was successful at that, so we’ll see how it plays out.”