DOVER, Del. (AP) — Martin Truex Jr. is keeping the car that has led more laps than any other in the series each of the last two races. He’d just like the No. 78 to lead the last one that really counts.
Speeding closer to his first Sprint Cup victory in two seasons, Truex’s Furniture Row Racing team brought the car that dominated at Kansas and Charlotte with them for this weekend’s race at Dover.
Truex has had no problem leading races. It’s taking the checkered flag that’s giving him fits.
But the close calls sure beats the alternative — slogging through a non-competitive season like he did last season with Furniture Row.
Truex has emerged as a legitimate threat to win every week this season, and he could find his breakthrough on Sunday at Dover International Speedway. He won his first career Cup race at Dover in 2007 and has added two poles.
Even last year when he slumped, Truex scored two of his five top 10s at Dover.
“I kind of was looking back at that and thinking, ‘OK, imagine what we can do there now,'” Truex said Friday.
The scene could look like it did in 2007.
Truex wasted no time moving on from 2014 when he led a race-high 29 laps — yes, 28 more than all of last season — in the opening Sprint Unlimited before giving up the lead over the final laps to winner Matt Kenseth.
The race was an early indicator that Truex would turn into a contender. He has 11 top 10s in 12 races and three top fives. He led 95 laps at Kansas before fading to ninth and led 131 last week at Charlotte before he settled for fifth.
Truex is teetering on the brink between unyielding frustration and supreme optimism a win is ahead because of all the near misses.
“Doing this as long as I have, you understand how hard it is to put yourself in those positions,” Truex said. “You never know when your next opportunity is going to come. But at the same time, for us, to come from where we did last year to be in those positions to just to be running the way we are … it was an amazing feeling for me.”
Both Truex and FRR expected more after a fantastic 2013 for each side made it seem like the new pairing would be an instant hit.
FRR, a one-car operation based in Denver, far removed from NASCAR’s North Carolina hub, made the Chase with Kurt Busch. Truex, whose only Cup win had been at Dover in 2007, won at Sonoma and made the Chase.
However, Truex was booted from the Chase in the aftermath of the Richmond scandal. NASCAR determined that Michael Waltrip Racing manipulated the outcome of the race in a bid to get Truex into the Chase.
The team mixed it up in the offseason: Furniture Row promoted Cole Pearn from lead race engineer to crew chief, replacing Todd Berrier.
“We kind of approach things the same way and think about things the same way. I guess he is like my Canadian brother and we just enjoy racing together,” Truex said. “He is so into it and we are both all in. It’s just been fun to work with him. I’ve learned a lot from him already and I feel like I’ve helped him some as well. It’s just been a good relationship that has provided a lot of success for both of us.”
Truex is second in the points standings and has done it without any help from teammates. Truex’s team shares a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing and he’s often considered a fourth RCR driver. RCR has alliances with single-car teams, with AJ Allmendinger and Casey Mears also under the organization’s umbrella.
Truex was open to FRR expanding to a two-car program.
“It’s working well and it’s hard to think about changing something,” he said. “I think it would be a good thing for the team and certainly they have the capabilities of making it work, I believe.”
One possibility for Furniture Row could be a manufacturer change to Toyota to create an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. That would give JGR a seat to place development driver Erik Jones. Jones has no upward mobility at JGR because all four of its Cup seats are filled.
Truex can worry about that another day. He’s trying to snap a winless skid that stretches back 68 races to the event on June 23, 2013, at the Sonoma road course. Nine different drivers have wins this year. Truex has his best shot yet on the mile-concrete oval at making it 10.
“I feel like we can go anywhere and have a shot at winning right now,” Truex said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to keep that around until Chase time, when it matters.”
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