Martin Truex, Jr.: NASCAR Cup Series Champion!
If you had any doubt heading into the NASCAR Cup Series' season-ending Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami Speedway last month that New Jersey-born Martin Truex, Jr. would walk away with his first career NASCAR championship, you must not have noticed the momentum he had coming into the 2017 finale.
To put things in perspective, consider this: before Miami, Truex had won a whopping (and a Cup Series best) SEVEN races during the 2017 season. Those seven races, won in a span of less than eight months, equated to the same number of races he had won over the previous 13 years. Plus, there were a handful of other races Truex probably should have won in 2017 if not for several instances of either bad luck, bad timing or both.
Of the 36 races in 2017, Truex finished inside the top-10 26 times. Talk about consistency. Almost from the very beginning of the season, Truex led the Cup Series standings, piling up stage wins and playoff points all along the way.
Of course, like any NASCAR championship, it’s not like it always came easy; Truex wasn’t immune to slumps. Midway through the season, the No. 78 team turned in finishes of 33rd or worse three times in five races - not exactly an ideal resume for a championship-caliber driver.
But the Furniture Row Racing team, the small operation by relative Cup Series standards – and the only team not based east of the Mississippi – pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, built fast cars race in and race out and persevered among a group of world-class stock car drivers who were more than capable of claiming the Series crown for themselves.
By the time the Championship 4 was set, Truex emerged as the only driver among them who had yet to taste championship glory. Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick had all won Cup Series titles within the previous five seasons. But just as he was in the 35 weeks leading up to the finale, Truex was up to the task.
After starting the race on the outside of the front row, Truex immediately took the lead and led the race from the front of the field for each of the first 12 laps, setting the tone for what the other three Playoff drivers could expect for the rest of the day.
Throughout the race, Truex would lead four separate times, but none were more important than the final 51 circuits, during which he held on to the top spot from Lap 217 to the eventual checkered flag, fighting off challengers like Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson as the laps ticked off to the finish.
It was a lifelong dream-come-true for Truex when he got to hoist the championship trophy in Victory Lane that night, and perhaps no driver was more deserving than the quiet, congenial, hard-working Truex and the Furniture Row Racing team behind him.