He’s not an actor, but you might say Martin Truex Jr. likes being on stage.
As in the newly enhanced stage racing format in NASCAR’s three premier national series.
Truex became the first driver to win both stages in a Cup race and then cap things off in the final segment with a win last Sunday at Las Vegas.
“I think stage racing has been really fun so far,” Truex said in a team media release. “I was a proponent of it before the season started, but we all didn’t really know how it was going to play out.
“The coolest part about stage racing is if you run really well, you get rewarded even if you have a bad finish due to a wreck or a parts failure. Stage racing really would have helped us last year.”
But a couple stage wins and one overall race win does not a season make.
Even though Truex has the most wins lately of any Cup driver dating back to last season – four wins in the last 15 races and five wins in the last 27 races – this Sunday’s Camping World 500 in Phoenix could be a major test for him.
Truex has struggled in 22 prior starts at the flat one-mile oval in suburban Avondale, Arizona, earning just one top-five (fifth in fall 2009) and seven top-10s.
Since finishing seventh in spring 2015, he’s finished 14th twice and 40th (last fall’s playoff race, the third time he’s finished last at Phoenix in his Cup career) in the last three races.
“Phoenix is definitely difficult, it has a short track mentality but drives like somewhat of a speedway,” Truex said. “It has high-speed entries and flat corners and it’s really slippery since the track was repaved. It’s just hard to get a hold of and real difficult to make the car handle.
“It’s always more difficult when you get on those long runs on Sunday at Phoenix because the track is a lot slicker than it has been throughout the weekend. Should be another fun race.”
Despite past struggles at Phoenix, Sunday’s win has the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota Camry feeling buoyant about his return there.
Thus far this season, Truex has finishes of 13th (Daytona), eighth (Atlanta) and his win at Las Vegas. He comes into this weekend’s race fourth in the NASCAR Cup standings, just five points behind series leader and Atlanta winner Brad Keselowski.
“We’re starting off the season strong, putting ourselves in position to win races and that’s really the key,” Truex said. “We need to continue to run up front, lead laps and be there when it counts.
“That’s what we did in Las Vegas … we want to continue our momentum. I look for our No. 78 to have another strong showing (at Phoenix).”