Martin Truex Jr.’s storybook 2017 season finished with a stirring victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway, holding off a charging Kyle Busch for his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship. Truex’s championship was no fluke, as the driver with the most victories and stage wins clinched the trophy. Even if he fails to win another career title. the euphoria over Truex’s remarkable achievement begs the question of whether this 37-year old champion would be a credible candidate for NASCAR’s Hall of Fame.
Overwhelmingly, Truex showed the way in 2017 under NASCAR’s new playoff format, dominating in virtually every statistical area. Among 36 points paying races, Truex Jr’s accomplishments include:
- 8 race wins, including 4 checkered flags claimed during the playoffs
- 19 stage wins under NASCAR’s new playoff point segment format
- 25 top-10 finishes
- 2,253 race laps led, equating to 21% of the total race laps completed during the 2017 season
Importantly, Truex rebooted his career with the Furniture Row Racing #78 team, co-owned by entrepreneur Barney Visser, a team that many wouldn’t have originally considered a powerhouse contender for titles, given its unique business model and location in Denver.
Furniture Row Racing does things its own way — part of the conventional wisdom that makes it one of NASCAR’s most celebrated story lines. The team definitely feels like a throwback to NASCAR’s early days, going about their business with a distinguished combination of both pride and humility.
Summing up his season, Truex termed it a reawakening: “I was a wreck thinking about all the tough days, the bad days, the times where I thought my career was over with, the times when I didn’t think anyone believed in me,” explained Truex. “But the guys, the people who mattered did – my fans, my family. Then I got with this (Furniture Row) team. They’re unbelievable, and they resurrected my career and made me a champion.”
If Truex’s career were to conclude on this high note today, would we consider him a candidate for the NASCAR Hall? Opened less than 8 years ago, the NASCAR Hall has been selective in reaching back over its 70 years of history to honor those with the highest achievements and greatest impacts in stock-car racing.
Yet, the NASCAR Hall of Fame is a hallowed society containing the lore and legends of 70 years of NASCAR, names synonymous with the sport such as Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Junior Johnson, David Pearson, Ned Jarrett, and Darrell Waltrip that grace the nine classes inducted so far.
But what criteria should we examine to determine whether a driver is Hall of Fame worthy, since there is no established scorecard for membership? After all, the NASCAR Hall is for recognition of monumental achievement, and the backstory is critical. As the adage goes, it’s the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Statistics.
Let’s Start with Monster Energy NASCAR Championships:
In NASCAR’s 70-year history, Truex has become the 32nd different driver to win NASCAR’s premier series title. So that is rarefied accomplishment right there.
What about Career Wins?
In terms of pure wins, Truex’s achievement is perhaps less laudable. On the all-time win list, Truex is tied with Ernie Irvan for 53rd. Although Truex more than doubled his 14-year Cup career win total this season, having now tallied 15 career wins, many of NASCAR’s current HOF drivers have 30+ career wins. For comparison on the low end, Terry Labonte has 22 wins in his 26-year career, but Labonte was a two-time champ.
Accomplishments in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series?
Truex did claim back-to-back XFINITY Series championships in 2004 and 2005 before moving full-time to NASCAR Cup. Both titles were won under the Dale Earnhardt Inc. team banner (in which Dale Earnhardt Jr. was a co-owner), adding extra spice to the soup of his achievements.
And Distinguished Crown Jewels Race Victories?
Truex has marquee signature wins in both the Charlotte Coca-Cola 600 and the Darlington Southern 500 on the NASCAR schedule, iconic circuits on the NASCAR schedule. A Daytona 500 victory would be frosting on this list, which Truex just barely fell short on the last lap in 2016, finishing 2nd.
Lastly, Contributions to NASCAR’s Reputation?
Truex Jr. and his long-time girlfriend Sherry Pollex recorded another dazzling honor by winning the 2017 Myers Brothers Award, recognizing esteemed contributions to stock-car racing as voted upon by the National Motorsports Press Association.
Their generous leadership around pediatric and ovarian cancer have helped highlight these diseases, with their annual Catwalk for a Cause fashion show and the Drive for Teal and Gold both raising funds to secure a cure.
Taking encouragement from Pollex’s indomitable spirit, Truex won his first title under NASCAR’s new stage racing elimination playoff format, establishing the definitive playbook for chasing the Monster Energy series title. We haven’t seen such a dominant season in the past decade since Jimmie Johnson won 10 races and the title in 2007, and Johnson is surely a Hall of Fame lock.
Besides, it’s hard to argue with Truex’s three Chase berths in the last four seasons, including progressing to the celebrated round of Championship 4 finalists in two of the past three years, under a unique playoff format this is unforgiving of any performance shortfalls.
Yet, Truex’s career journey, along with the optimism and inspiration exuded by his partner Sherry Pollex, delivers like a Hollywood script, with grace in the face of heartache and triumph in the face of tragedy. And this fabulous fairytale outshines all statistical achievements and debates, making Truex’s enduring story worth retelling through the NASCAR Hall for current and future generations.
By Ron Bottano
Let’s connect on Twitter at @rbottano