By Cole Cusumano
AVONDALE, Ariz. — It’s been a perplexing season for Martin Truex Jr. He enters his fifth Championship 4 event as the definitive underdog, even with a second-best four wins in 2021. Does the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series Champion have what it takes to dethrone Chase Elliott? He certainly believes so.
Contrasted to his championship winning season, Truex has hardly been as dominant as he was four years ago. His 19 top-10s, 793 laps led and 12.3 average ranks among the lowest of the other three championship contenders, but he has one thing going for him — those four wins.
Specifically, where he earned those victories.
“The only difference is in 2017 we were dominant throughout the year,” Truex told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “We won a ton of races and this year we’ve just been really dominant on 750 [horsepower] tracks and kind of just hanging around there on the 550 tracks. Definitely not a dominant car, but I feel like we’ve won the right races when you look at Phoenix (Raceway) and being here in this championship race, so I think we’ve got the edge.”
It just so happens all of Truex’s wins came on 750 tracks, which is the same package used at Phoenix. Even more importantly, he won the Spring race in the Valley of the Sun after leading 64 laps.
Additionally, Truex has been successful on short tracks. Six of his last seven wins have come on ovals one-mile or shorter, and while many say Phoenix races more like an intermediate facility, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has the stats to plead his case for emerging victorious.
Going back to his championship winning season in 2017, Truex has six top-10s over nine starts at Phoenix. The only cause for concern is the No. 19 posted the 18th-quickest lap time in practice, 0.39-seconds off the pace, while the other Championship 4 contenders clicked off top-10 speeds.
Although the consistency hasn’t been there for Truex, the speed has, and that should only spell success for them entering Phoenix as the defending winners. To see if the No. 19 team can win their first title (he won racing for Furniture Row Racing in 2017), check out the championship race on November 7 at 3 p.m. ET on Fox.