If there ever was an event where Martin Truex Jr. would probably like to trade his sunglasses for working headlights on his Toyota, tonight’s race at Martinsville Speedway would be it.
The venerable .526-mile short track in southern Virginia — the shortest track on the Cup circuit — hosts its first-ever Cup night race under the lights this evening. It has been quite the anticipated event for the sport’s oldest legacy track, the only facility to host Cup Series races every year since the series was founded in 1949.
“It’s definitely going to be different, but I think it’s exciting to have our first night race there,” Truex said in a media teleconference. “Doing it mid-week, it should be fun so hopefully it goes over well. We’re all looking forward to it.”
Whether in the daylight or night time, Martinsville has been, is and always will be Martinsville. In other words, the racing will still be ultra-tight, tire wear will be ultra-significant and tempers are likely to flare up as much as brakes routinely overheat there.
“I think the biggest question for us right now is just the tires,” Truex said. “The tires are different and that can have such a huge impact at Martinsville.
“So, with no practice, kind of going back and building off of the things that we’ve learned there with our car and being able to win last fall, are those things going to work still?
“And, how is the tire going to change the way the car drives and what it needs to do to be fast? Definitely a lot of question marks there as far as that goes I think more so than just being at night.”
Tonight’s race – weather permitting (there’s a nearly 50% chance of rain in the forecast at race time, per wunderground.com) – marks the third mid-week race NASCAR has held since returning from the COVID-19 pandemic hiatus. It’s something Truex would like to see continue once things become more normalized as the virus is brought further under control.
“From a driver’s perspective, for me, I think it’s been good, I’ve enjoyed it,” Truex said. “The fact that we’ve had all one day shows and no practice, no qualifying has made it a little bit easier on the teams. I think I would be all for it.
“Everybody has always talked about how long our season is and it would certainly be a way to shorten up the schedule timeline wise. I think it falls more on the teams and what they are capable of. It’s a lot of work to prepare race cars and do all the things you need to do to show up to the race track and race.
“There’s a lot going on behind the scenes. I think for the drivers, it’s easy. You show up and you race. I think you have to ask the teams more about how they feel about it and how many races could they do in a short amount of time like that.”
Truex is adapting to the new normal, per se, in NASCAR – namely, no practice and in most cases, no qualifying before races. But he likes the get in and drive routine.
“I feel that I can get in and fire off and go just as hard as I need to,” he said. “It’s different from the perspective that you really don’t know what you have, and you have to kind of fly by the seat of your pants feel and just react and make adjustments on the fly.
“There is no, ‘Well, I’m going to go in the garage and make a few adjustments.’ You kind of just have to deal with what you have and wait for a pit stop to work on it. So, it’s been a little bit different from there. I definitely feel like I’m confident in being able to fire it off into turn 1 as hard as I need to each week.”
After a series-leading seven wins last season, the driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has yet to visit victory lane this season. But the odds look optimistic tonight: his most recent Cup Series win was last fall’s playoff race at Martinsville.
“I feel real close, I feel we were in position to win three or four already,” Truex said. “It’s just one of those things where we haven’t had everything come together.
“This past weekend at Atlanta, I felt like we had a dominant car through the first two stages, and just lost the handling a little bit there in stage three. Track cooled off a little bit. The car changed a little bit and you find yourself not able to track down the leader again.
“We’ve been right there. I feel like we had a shot at winning Darlington and the Coke 600. Those are the past couple races. I feel like we are right there, and we are working to get better each week.”
Some may point to Truex’s failure to win thus far this season being tied to still getting used to new crew chief James Small, who replaced the now retired Cole Pearn after last season.
“As far as the things with James, it’s a learning process,” Truex said.
But at the same time, the Mayetta, New Jersey native believes the transition from Pearn to Small has “been pretty seamless, really.
“We know each other and we’ve worked together long enough (Small was previously Truex’s chief engineer) to know that, and I don’t think that’s anything that is holding us up. It’s just a matter of putting all the little details together and executing.”