‘Magnet for trouble’ Martin Truex Jr. looks to reverse personal Bristol history

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Martin Truex Jr. has only managed to figure out Bristol Motor Speedway twice in his NASCAR Cup career.

In the fall 2011 and spring 2012 races, Truex earned the only two top five and top-10 finishes of his career at the half-mile track when he finished second and third.

His other 20 starts in “Thunder Valley” have seen the Furniture Row Racing driver tend to be a “magnet for trouble.”

Since finishing third in 2012, Truex has failed to finish on the lead lap in six of nine Bristol starts. A crash in the 2013 night race gave Truex his second Bristol DNF and left him with a fractured wrist.

“Bristol is Bristol and you’re rarely going to beat the house,” Truex said in a press release. “The track is known for its wild races and it seems that I have been a magnet for trouble. Our recent record might not show it, but we do have a car that can compete and contend at the Bristol short track. We just need to be patient and stay out of the wrecks.”

Truex’s best Bristol result since joining Furniture Row Racing in 2014 was 14th in last years’ spring race.

But the driver of the No. 78 Toyota has made a habit of reversing career trends over the last three seasons. Though he’s still looking for his short track victory, Truex has six wins since 2015 after only winning twice in his first nine full Cup seasons.

The most recent was March 12 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

When it comes to short tracks, Truex has manged to increase his fortunes in recent seasons.

After only two top fives and four top 10s at Martinsville from 2006 -2014, Truex has added three more top 10s and 239 laps led since taking over the No. 78.

He even won Stage 1 in the last month’s race, giving him a series best four stage wins through seven races. But Truex’s day fell off from there and ended with him in 16th.

With nine playoff points earned, Truex trails only Brad Keselowski (10). Those will be added the drivers’ point totals once the playoffs begin.

“Those are going to be crucial, definitely once the playoffs starts,” crew chief Cole Pearn said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “SiriusXM Speedway.” “You want to have consistency all across the board. But really, it’s about race wins. The stage points, yeah, it’s great to pick up one point here and there. But vying to win the race is still where the money is at. Those are the ones you want to collect”

Said Truex, “The next two weeks (Bristol and Richmond) will give us a good gauge on where we stand with our short track program.”

At Richmond International Raceway, Truex had finishes of ninth and third last year and led 193 laps in the fall race. That was after four top 10s and 20 laps led from 2010 – 2015.

Now Truex takes his early season momentum, with an average start of 10.9 and average finish of 8.7, to his second worst track on the circuit.

“We want to get into a consistent rhythm with all the different types of tracks,” Truex said. “We had a variety of things happen to us this year – good breaks, bad breaks – but overall we have come out of the gate with a decent start. It was sure nice to get that win early in the season.”

One thing that’s been consistent this season so far is that no races have been impacted by rain on race day. Only qualifying for Martinsville has been canceled.

But rain is in the forecast each day of the race weekend in Bristol.

“I think this week everyone is a little concerned about the weather,” Pearn said. “Limited track time is a possibility. Hopefully we got decent notes to fall back on if it comes to that.”

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Check out Southern 500 paint schemes for Erik Jones, David Ragan and Landon Cassill

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Monday saw the reveal of three paint schemes for the Sept. 3 Southern 500 (on NBCSN). Here’s a look at the cars for Furniture Row Racing’s Erik Jones and Front Row Motorsports’ David Ragan and Landon Cassill.

Jones, who is in contention for the Rookie of the Year award in the Cup Series, will honor previous winners of the award with his paint scheme. Specifically, the No. 77 Toyota will pay tribute to the Rookie of the Year recipients from 1984-89.

The scheme will feature pictures of Rusty Wallace (1984), Ken Schrader (1985), Alan Kulwicki (1986), Davey Allision (1987), Ken Bouchard (1988) and Dick Trickle (1989).

Ragan’s No. 38 Ford will be sponsored by Good Sam. Ragan’s paint scheme is an ode to the RV company’s early days. It was founded in 1966.

Cassill’s paint scheme probably looks familiar. It’s the same one the team used for the last Southern 500 when Chris Buescher drove the N0. 34. The team had to call an audible after Michael McDowell and Leavine Family Racing beat them to the punch on a Kulwicki tribute scheme. Fortunately, Cassill was cool with it.

MORE: Retro Rundown of 2017 Southern 500 paint schemes.

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Bump & Run: Taking stock of the NASCAR season

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What has surprised you the most about this season?

Jeff Burton: My biggest surprise is that there really hasn’t been a flaw in the new stage racing format. I believed that something would happen that revealed a flaw that no one had anticipated but we have yet to see it.

Nate Ryan: Martin Truex Jr.’s emergence as the championship favorite. It was expected he would run well and be a playoff contender and winner, but Furniture Row Racing regularly outrunning Joe Gibbs Racing as the best-in-class Toyota team has been a surprise – as has Truex’s runaway lead in the playoff points standings. He and crew chief Cole Pearn have become the crew chief-driver combination that is setting the pace in every way possible, whether it’s lap speeds, setup decisions or strategy calls.

Dustin Long: That there have been 14 different Cup winners (13 eligible for the playoffs) at this point in the season, which is already the most number of winners in an entire Cup season since 2013.

What driver has impressed you the most this season?

Jeff Burton: Martin Truex Jr. Speed and consistency is hard to achieve. He has been the guy that seems to be in the battle every single week. 

Nate Ryan: William Byron. His promotion to the Cup Series is well deserved, because he has proven the past two years to be an absolute prodigy with his acclimation to Xfinity and trucks. It makes one wonder if he already would have been a Cup winner if he had started his racing career in earnest before becoming a teenager.

Dustin Long: I’m amazed what William Byron has done for his relative lack of experience compared to drivers who started before they hit first grade. His ability to handle pressure situations has been noteworthy. While the challenges will increase next year, I’m already interested to see how he will do in Cup.

What storyline most intrigues you for the coming weeks?

Jeff Burton: I’m intrigued about the playoffs. There will be a big time driver and team that doesn’t advance into the playoffs. Watching who can take control and who can’t step up will be very interesting to witness.

Nate Ryan: The impact of playoff points on the championship race and how it affects who advances in each round. The suspicion here is that there will be much second-guessing and re-examination of decisions made during the regular season that had unanticipated repercussions months later.

Dustin Long: I’m intrigued to see if Kyle Busch and his team can finally eliminate the mistakes that have plagued them throughout the season and prevented Busch from possibly an epic season. With two wins in the last four races, he’s on the verge of a breakout that will lead to a dominating title run. Will it happen?

SunnyD extends sponsorship deal with Roush Fenway Racing

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SunnyD has extended its contract with Roush Fenway Racing to sponsor Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s team through the 2019 season, the organization announced Tuesday.

SunnyD will add races as primary sponsor each season, although how many was not announced.

The company has been the primary sponsor of Stenhouse’s car in three races this season – Atlanta, spring Bristol and Indianapolis. SunnyD will next sponsor Stenhouse in October at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“We’ve had a great time partnering with SunnyD the last two years,” Stenhouse in a statement from the team. “It’s one of the coolest paint schemes on the track, and we’ve had a lot of fun promoting their classic brand. I’m excited that we have extended our relationship, and I can’t wait to see how much fun we can have with SunnyD in victory lane.”

“We are very excited to announce that we tore up the old contract and signed a new one that extends for another season and adds additional races with Ricky and Roush Fenway,” said Henk Hartong, Chairman of Harvest Hill Beverage Company, owners of the SunnyD brand, in a statement. “I’m very proud of our relationship with Jack Roush, Steve Newmark and the entire Roush Fenway team. It is something that we wanted to lock in for the foreseeable future. Ricky is one of the rising young stars in NASCAR and we have seen great response to the program from the passionate NASCAR fans.  We are pleased to bolster our association with him and Roush Fenway.”

Stenhouse has two wins this year and will be in next month’s playoffs.

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Martin Truex Jr. continues to dominate NASCAR Cup playoff grid

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Martin Truex Jr. continues to dominate the weekly NASCAR Cup playoff standings.

Truex did not gain any extra points during Saturday night’s Bristol Night Race, so he remains with 35 points, but that’s still a large spread over those chasing him.

Bristol winner Kyle Busch jumped from fifth to second place in the standings with 20 playoff points.

Kyle Larson fell back to third place (18 points), Jimmie Johnson fell to fourth (16) and Brad Keselowski is fifth (14).

As for the playoff bubble, Chase Elliott is 69 points ahead of the cut-off line, followed by Matt Kenseth (+61) and Jamie McMurray (+58) with two races left until the playoffs.

Outside the playoff cut line is Clint Bowyer, who dropped from 31 to 58 points down and Joey Logano from -98 to -117. Erik Jones climbed from -130 to -127, and Daniel Suarez dropped from -139 to -163.

 

Here’s this week’s playoff standings grid: