Martin Truex Jr. has been a dominant force in NASCAR races at intermediate racetracks.
He has driven to 10 consecutive top-five finishes on 1.5-mile layouts, including fourth Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
While those kinds of performance were crucial to his 2017 championship season, they were just a piece of his success.
The Southern Regional High School graduate also has excelled on short tracks, such as ISM Raceway, site of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race, outside Phoenix. Truex has compiled four consecutive top-five finishes at short tracks (1 mile or less): fifth (New Hampshire), fourth (Dover), second (Martinsville) and third (Phoenix).
“We’ve made a lot of progress with our short track program, and hopefully it will continue to get better this year, starting this weekend at Phoenix,” Truex said in a statement from Furniture Row Racing, the team for which he drives. “We had a good run there in the fall last year and had a shot at winning.”
His third-place showing last fall was his best yet there. Qualifying for Sunday’s race is set for Friday (5:15 p.m. on Fox Sports 1).
In 24 starts there, he has had two top-fives, six top-10s and one pole. His average starting position is 13.0, his average finish 17.0.
“I would say the spring and fall races at Phoenix are pretty similar, but the mindset early in the season is different. Running at a short track for the first time in the season gives you an idea where you stack up. You want to have a strong run in the first race at Phoenix so you know what to take there for the fall race.”
Truex, who is fourth in the driver standings after three of 36 races this year, says “Phoenix is a typical short track. You have to have that good center turn and be able to drive off the corners. You also have to find a happy balance with the car and need to be good on restarts and long runs.”
Truex came into the first Phoenix race last year fourth in points.
“Our performance has been solid so far,” Truex said of his 2018 start. “With the new pit crew rules, the pit guns and a few different car-rule changes, I feel we have done a good job starting off the season but do have some things to figure out.”
“We just can’t get the balance of our car where we need it. Been struggling with getting the car to turn good enough these last two weeks, and when we get that figured out, we’ll be right there.”
While the former longtime resident of the Mayetta section of Stafford Township has had strong recent runs in Arizona, he has not led a lap in the past 11 races there — a statistical oddity for the driver who led the series in laps led in each of the past two seasons. He has led a total of 101 laps in earlier Phoenix races.
Ryan Newman is the defending race winner. FS1 will televise the race starting at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.