About a decade ago I sat down in Ybor City, Tampa’s night time playground, with my co-host of RaceDay on Fox, Rob D’Amico and Martin Truex, Jr. Obviously he was the new Nationwide Series star on the block.
I didn’t know him at all but we didn’t take the lunch as an opportunity to interview or talk shop with him. It turned out to be just a friendly lunch. I discovered that he was just a normal young guy, his head incessantly turning as if at a tennis match, watching all the beautiful ladies that adorn this part of Florida. Who could blame him.
I was impressed with his approachability and his meshing into our conversation with ease, he was comfortable in his own skin. Not everyone in this business is.
Furniture Row Racing has not been at the top of the charts, except for a few occasions. They are known for having a robust super speedway program, but not for short and 1.5 mile tracks.
When Kurt Busch found himself on the outside, again, it was Furniture Row that picked him up and he returned the favor by putting a single car team in the chase.
It’s a team that seems to thrive on hope.
Truex won two Nationwide Championships. There was no doubt he could drive, but making the transition from a Nationwide/Xfinity/Busch car is not always a natural progression. It depends on the driver.
Truex showed he was a hard racer, but he had his problems closing the deal and racing is all about closing the deal. He came out of the box hot, but like a half-submerged meteorite, began to cool slowly over the years. His stint at Michael Waltrip Racing didn’t produce the results that they had hoped. He was considered a B+ driver. Almost, but not quite a star.
He was always in the hunt, putting the car on pole, leading critical laps, but either he or the car let him down when it came crunch time. Obviously, like in all sports, a change might do him good and that change came without his approval.
Waltrip lost NAPA as a sponsor and out the door went Truex. Furniture Row stepped up, as it often does with drivers who have talent but have fallen from grace somehow. The big advantage, though Truex may not have seen at the time, was that he took all of his Waltrip racing crew with him.
That could become a game changer.
Without the advantage of being a Shaman or Edgar Cayce, 2015 may very well be a breakout year for Truex. It’s almost like that recording artist that gets a hit, whose been at it for 10 years, but everyone thinks he or she is an overnight sensation.
He’s been a challenger at every race so far and seems to have gotten the bit in his teeth. He appears to have his confidence back and that’s no small thing in auto racing.
Drivers can, through circumstances of their own or another’s making, find out that they can dig down deep and discover something that was hidden. It looks as if Truex has done that, but it is early.
Ricky Craven, recently said in the popular ESPN Turn 4 debate column when asked ‘who was the most pleasant surprise so far’, Craven responded: “Martin Truex Jr. and the No. 78 team have been an inspiring story to open the new season. This group represents a lot of what’s really good about NASCAR in 2015.”
I agree with Craven. Truex has been the biggest surprise of the year so far. He’s the outlier. Even under the new rules everyone expected the usual suspects to emerge, but Furniture and Truex? No one saw it coming.
My bet is that if they can keep the momentum up and the relationships with the powers that be, a lot of “A” list drivers will see him coming.
He smells a win and so do I.