NASCAR’s Martin Truex Jr. flourishing in transition season

Martin Truex Jr. will start 10th in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Martin Truex Jr. will start 10th in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Getty Images

Martin Truex Jr. isn’t going to let a potential penalty to his Furniture Row Racing team mess up what’s been a strong start to his NASCAR season.

“It’s not a big deal,” Truex said at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he will start 10th in Sunday’s Kobalt 400 Sprint Cup race. “I don’t really see it being a big issue. I wish it didn’t have to happen, but it’s part of it.”

Cole Pearn, the crew chief for Truex’s No. 78 Toyota, is in Las Vegas, despite being suspended for one race and fined $50,000 after a roof-flap infraction during qualifying last week at Atlanta. Pearn can remain with the team while Furniture Row appeals the penalty, which also includes Truex being docked 15 championship points.

It was the second consecutive week that Truex’s car had what NASCAR felt was a roof-flap problem (a car’s roof flap is designed to keep a car from going airborne and flipping when it spins). At the season-opening Daytona 500, it cost Truex a chance to make a qualifying attempt. Both instances, Truex said, were safety related and not meant to gain a competitive edge.

I’ve had to adapt quickly.

Martin Truex Jr., on switching from Chevy to Toyota

“From Cole’s side, I think he’s a bit frustrated from how it went down, which is understandable,” Truex said. “I think people in the garage area talk and he feels like, ‘Do people really think I’m stupid enough after what happened at Daytona to try and pull something on NASCAR in the same area?’

“Being it’s a safety issue, it’s really a big deal to figure out exactly how it all happened, (and) how to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.”

Truex has already been big news this season. Following a 2015 season in which he made it all the way to the Chase’s final four, Truex and Furniture Row switched manufacturers from Chevy to Toyota. Furniture Row is also in a technical alliance Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota’s top NASCAR team.

The change has seemed seamless. Truex finished second to JGR’s Denny Hamlin at Daytona by one-hundredth of a second, the closest finish in race history. Truex followed that with a solid seventh at Atlanta.

Truex’s Furniture Row team has had issues with the car’s roof flap in the season’s first two races.

All the while, Truex has been adjusting to life driving a Toyota, which has significant distinctions in how it handles from a Chevy, even in how the dashboard is configured. Not to mention Truex has had to figure out NASCAR’s new low downforce aerodynamic package with the rest of the drivers.

“There’s a lot of difference in the little things,” Truex said. “Like the feel of the car, the approach that the guys at JGR have on their front ends and steering ratios. You’re learning all that. I’ve had to adapt quickly. I still don’t know where the switches are on the dash and I have to look at it.”

Furniture Row is an outlier in NASCAR in that it is highly competitive as a one-car team. It also is located in Denver (Colorado, not North Carolina), far from the sport’s Charlotte-area epicenter. But Truex lives in Mooresville and is able to meet regularly with his pseudo-teammates – Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth – at JGR.

4th Truex’s finish in the 2015 Cup standings

“(I’m) trying to understand exactly what they are saying about their race cars,” said Truex. “What is a car that is loose to them? What does it feel like to me if it’s the same? Trying to decipher a lot of things with new people and get to know them and understand them, and at the same time keep that focus on the race car and what it takes to make it go faster.”

There’s no word on when NASCAR will announce its decision on Furniture Row’s appeal of Pearn’s suspension. Truex said that if his team loses its crew chief for one race, he won’t be overly concerned.

“If (Pearn’s suspension) were six races, I would say yes,” Truex said. “We have a lot of people that we can plug in to call the race. Being that it’s one (race), I don’t think we’ll miss a step.”