Is Martin Truex Jr. ‘a lock’ for NASCAR Hall of Fame? Notes, thoughts from media day

NASCAR champ Truex Jr. says he will miss racing with his buddy Dale Jr.

Martin Truex Jr. credits Dale Earnhardt Jr. for giving him his first ride in NASCAR
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Martin Truex Jr. credits Dale Earnhardt Jr. for giving him his first ride in NASCAR

NASCAR media day is a bit of a misnomer – it’s really three days, a full-out event geared to prepare NASCAR fans and media members for the start of the season.

On Monday, the event kicked off with Charlotte Motor Speedway’s announcement of an updated Roval course, which came with ... mixed opinions. The festivities continued Tuesday, where highlights included two star drivers discussing their involvement (or lack thereof) in a potential Carolina Panthers ownership bid. Here’s what we learned on Wednesday, one of the last times we’ll speak to drivers before they head to Daytona in the middle of February:

▪  Is Martin Truex Jr., fresh off his first Cup Series championship, on a trajectory to the NASCAR Hall of Fame? Winston Kelley, the Hall’s executive director, apparently thinks so. According to Truex, Kelley told the reigning champ at a charity event that “you know, you’re pretty much a lock to get in here now,” while pointing to his Hall of Fame patch. What did Truex think of that?

“He told me that and I hadn’t even thought of that,” Truex said Wednesday. “That’s insane. That was one of the moments this winter that I forgot about, but it was like, I can’t believe that, just to think that. Blows my mind.”

▪  Speaking of Truex, a noted Philadelphia Eagles fan, he’ll be at the Super Bowl in Minnesota in two weeks to support his team (and do some work for NBC while he’s there). He and Dale Earnhardt Jr. will do some pregame broadcasts before Truex gets to sit back and enjoy his first Super Bowl.

▪  Brad Keselowski’s candidness about the future of NASCAR was a breath of fresh air. While Keselowski didn’t say the sport is doomed, he rightfully acknowledged the sport has its issues and doesn’t hold the same standing it used to. “We’d be arrogant to think there aren’t some spots that can use some work,” Keselowski said. “The sport’s not going away tomorrow. ... We’re still on the airplane, we just might not be sitting in first-class seats.”

▪  Ryan Blaney, 24, won his first Cup Series race last season and, as a result, qualified for the playoffs for the first time. Still, he isn’t satisfied, and said he hopes the work he put in this offseason translates to an even more dramatic leap in the standings. “Hopefully it’s a breakout season. That’s what you want,” Blaney said. “Hopefully it’ll let us make a big jump to where we’re not just running up front at a couple of races – I want to be dominating races and leading the most laps.”

▪  Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr., who will be a Cup Series rookie in 2018 (although he ran several Cup races last season as a fill-in driver), spent time the other day with Charlotte Hornets rookie Malik Monk. Wallace said Monk ran about five laps in the simulator at Daytona and did well enough that it took him two tries to beat Monk’s time. Just in case the whole NBA thing doesn’t work out.

▪ ▪  Another note about Wallace – for all the criticisms of young drivers and NASCAR losing personalities, Wallace is your answer. Not only is he the first full-time African-American Cup driver since Wendell Scott back in 1971, but he has an electric personality that should engage fans.

▪  Joey Logano, who missed the playoffs last season after almost capturing the 2016 Cup Series championship, said that while 2017 was a trying season for him, he still believes his team has the capability to win a championship this year.

Brendan Marks: 704-358-5889, @brendanrmarks

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