Martin Truex Jr. and his Furniture Row Racing team were the masters of stage wins and points last season but don’t expect that same approach in next Sunday’s Daytona 500.
After capturing his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship last season and with signature wins in the Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500 under his belt, a victory in NASCAR’s premier event has taken on new meaning for Truex.
“We come here and go for the win and not worry about points, don’t worry about stage points and stage wins. We just come here to win,” he said.
“We have 35 races remaining after Daytona to figure it out and make up the points. This race is all about winning.”
Truex amassed 19 stage wins and 54 playoff points before rolling into last year’s winner-take-all season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he won the race to capture the championship.
Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn were credited for getting the most out of NASCAR’s new stage racing format.
But expect a renewed focus by the No. 78 Toyota team this weekend to win the race.
“If you’re fortunate enough to be a final-four driver at Homestead there’s a great deal of pressure in the one race takes all. Trust me, that is pressure,” Truex said.
“Then you turn around three months later and you’re at the biggest race of the year. Crazy how it works. But these big moments are what we all live for.”
Truex has come unbearably close to winning the 500 in recent years.
In 2016, he lost out in a photo-finish to Denny Hamlin in the closest finish since the advent of electronic timing and scoring. Last year, Truex was leading with two laps remaining but ran out of fuel and ended up 13th.
“I know we’ve come close at Daytona a few times now. It’s kind of surreal to think about the races we have won and what we’ve accomplished the last few years,” Truex, 37, said.
“No guarantee that we will ever check the rest of them off, but to have the chance to do it and to see the races we have won as a team the past three years I never thought it was possible.
“I am enjoying the opportunities and feel privileged to be in this position.”
Truex has never won a superspeedway race in his Cup career and his runner-up finish in 2016 is his only top-five finish at Daytona International Speedway in 25 career starts.
Truex admits his performance has been “a little frustrating.”
“Our superspeedway record has been very bad and typically (they) have not been my strong suit,” he said. “I feel like I am always in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“I’ve been able to put myself in position to have a shot at winning a few of them but haven’t been able to get it done yet. We’re still learning ways as a team to make moves better and to position ourselves in front of the field and stay there.
“I don’t know if we quite figured it out yet. I am not sure if we have the speed as one of the guys to make those big moves and be aggressive here, but we’ll keep looking for it.”