Two years ago, to call Martin Truex Jr. the “gold standard” – Denny Hamlin’s words – of the Cup Series’ two Virginia short tracks would have been unthinkable.
Entering last spring’s race at Richmond Raceway, Truex had failed to win in 26 starts on the .750-mile track, even though he had led a total of 675 laps in the five races preceding that event.
To the south in Martinsville, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was winless in 27 starts prior to last year’s playoff race on the half-mile track.
But that’s the past.
Going into today’s Cup playoff race at Richmond (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), Truex is the man to beat in Virginia, going undefeated in the last four Cup races there.
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Truex swept last year’s Richmond races and has won the last two Martinsville events. His victory in the spring Richmond race last year was his first short-track win in a full-time Cup career that began in 2006.
“I think it’s kind of a deal where we got to working on certain things, trying to get the car to do certain things that I like it to do and working with the same group of guys for several years there,” Truex said earlier this week. “Obviously at Furniture Row (Racing), it kind of began. Being able to go to JGR (in 2019) with basically the same race cars, and a lot of the same people, we just really continued to work in those same directions and areas. I think that short tracks are places where they are very unique.
“The things that have worked in the past typically you can carry through and use them for seasons. Just the things we have been working on for me particularly. Not only the way I drive, my style, but make the car compliment that. Obviously, we have a great team, and a great race car. It’s just a matter of putting all of the pieces together and continuing to refine on them over the years.”
Unlike last year at Richmond, Cup teams will be using the low-downforce package there for the first time.
That didn’t hinder Truex at Martinsville earlier this year when he led 132 laps and earned his only win of the season so far.
Truex has a “lot of confidence” in what the No. 19 team can do with the new package tonight.
“If you go back to 2017, 2018, 2016, it was all low downforce then. It’s basically back to what it was then,” Truex said. “I feel like we’ve been able to do similar things with our car and our setup that I feel like have worked with both packages. That gives me confidence to go back and do what we did last season.”
Truex hopes to not only continue his own Richmond dominance this weekend, but the dominance of Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing at the short track. The manufacturer and team have won seven of the last nine Richmond races and four straight.
“The past handful of seasons it has been a really good track for our team,” Truex said. “I think anytime you go to a place that you have had recent success, especially in the playoffs, it’s a bonus. I’m excited to go there. Hopefully, it would be nice to get a win. It’s been a while.”