Martin Truex Jr. is the only playoff driver with nothing to worry about Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, and you might see him racing that way on the 2.66-mile oval.
The Furniture Row Racing driver, who is 0 for 50 at the restrictor-plate tracks of Daytona International Speedway and Talladega, told NBC Sports after his win Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that it’s time to shed his nice-guy image at the tracks where depending on the whims of drafting partners can be the key to success.
“I’ve got to be more of a jerk on the racetrack if I’m going to win a plate race,” Truex said with a laugh. “I give too much room. I’m too cautious. I don’t make those dumb moves that cause big wrecks like some guys do.
“And you see the guys who win there a lot are just erratic as hell, and they’re all over the place, and you never know where they’re going to go. That’s why they’re good there, but that’s also why they cause the big wrecks. So I’m kind of in the middle. I race like I normally do — pretty cautious. I don’t want to mess anybody up. So I guess I got to race like a jerk this time around since I’ve got nothing to lose. See if we can win it.”
Truex doesn’t need to win it because his Bank of America 500 victory advances him to the Round of 8 regardless of his results at Talladega and Kansas Speedway. He still has incentive to keep rivals from gaining playoff points to start the next round (while also building on his series-leading 64 playoff points).
But mainly he and his No. 78 Toyota team will enjoy a stress-free 500 miles while the other 11 drivers wrestle with the nail-biting capriciousness that Truex is all too familiar with in his career.
Truex has only two top fives in 25 starts at Talladega and one in 25 starts at Daytona – a runner-up finish to Denny Hamlin in the 2016 Daytona 500. The tracks are his two worst in average finish on the circuit (21.0 at Talladega, 22.6 at Daytona).
“We suck,” crew chief Cole Pearn said of his team’s record in plate races. “I know we’ve had a couple ones we’ve got close, but man, average finish-wise we’re pretty terrible. For us not to have to worry about that, and it’s just the randomness of what can happen. But we always feel like we’re in the randomness.”
Things might seem a little less random Sunday as Truex will have a Furniture Row Racing teammate (Erik Jones) and the four-car fleet of Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas, which won’t be sandbagging this season after employing that strategy last year.
Hamlin also believes that Truex might benefit from getting “meaner” in Sunday’s race.
“It’s fair to say,” Hamlin said Tuesday when told of Truex’s postrace comment. “When people think of Jamie McMurray at superspeedways, he has a lot of success there. He also wrecks a ton there, and it’s because of the moves he makes sometimes. Most times, they don’t pay off, but when it does, he has great results.
“I think it’s a risk/reward thing. I found success the other way, letting those guys make abrupt moves and me follow through. I think it’s to each his own and the styles with which they race, but I’d somewhat agree that Martin errs on the side of helping teammates vs. being selfish, but he hasn’t really had all the teammates that he’s had over the last couple of years. So he’s got more teammates out there than what he probably has had in the past.”