Toyota Racing – Martin Truex Jr.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Daytona Media Day – February 14, 2018
Furniture Row Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. was made available to the media in Daytona:
MARTIN TRUEX JR., No. 78 Bass Pro Shops/5-hour ENERGY Toyota Camry, Furniture Row Racing
How are you going to play tomorrow night? What is your game plan? Points?
“Tomorrow night in the Duels, I think is really just the starting spot. Try not to be too risky. We qualified really bad on Sunday, so just try to get a good starting spot, a good pit stall. Honestly, no reason to go out there and take too many risks as far as wrecks and things like that. Try to keep that car in one piece so we can practice some more and get ready for Sunday.”
Who could be this year’s Truex? How mind‑boggling is it to look back today and think that you did that?
“It’s pretty crazy to look at the numbers, honestly. It’s pretty ridiculous. It’s going to be tough to beat. It’s going to be tough to match that, for sure. I think we can do it. We’re up for that challenge. Really feel like we could have won 10 or 12 races if things would have gone a little different. I think our focus is starting the season off here, figure out where we’re at, go from there. I got a lot of confidence in my team that we can still continue to do some great things. Certainly won’t be happy unless we do.”
Who do you feel in the series right now is closest to matching that year you had last year?
“It’s so hard to tell right now. Off‑season a lot of changes. We’ll just have to see who comes out strong. Hopefully we’re one of those guys. We continue to work on it. There’s a handful of guys that have that opportunity.”
How do you respond to a driver who may think your success last year was fishy?
“I don’t care (laughter). Sorry. I mean, I’ve chased guys throughout my career, as well. Sometimes you find that magic. That’s what we found. Even 2015, 2016, you look at those two seasons, we led a lot of laps, could have won a lot of races. It’s easy to say that kind of stuff when you’re on the outside looking in. You don’t know what somebody is doing, how they’re doing it. It kind of messes with your head. For us, we know exactly what we were doing, we know exactly how we did it. We just have to try to repeat that. It’s going to be different this year, different roles, trying to figure out what this car is going to be like. The last two years, honestly, we found with my driving style, the rules package that we had, we were always so comfortable, we were always in the zone. We could always find that comfort zone for me. A lot of guys really struggled to find it. I feel like a little less downforce again this year is going to play into our favor. It seems like every time they take off downforce, we run better. I like that. Hopefully that trend continues.”
Do you watch guys who have performed better on plate tracks as you look for your first victory at this type of track?
“Absolutely. I watch video, watch them, pay attention to how they’re doing things, what they’re doing. They know when to make the moves, the right moves. They also have the car fast enough to make the moves they know how to make. You have to mesh all those things together. Personally I feel like I’m not where I want to be. I don’t think our cars are there either. We qualified 26th on Sunday. We really didn’t expect to. We got a little bit of work to do in that department. I’ve got a little work to do, as well. I thought in the Clash we had a really good car. It was slow in practice as well. It felt like it drafted good, handled better than most. I felt we were right there. I was able to come up through the pack twice. I just made a move for the lead at the wrong time, went to the back. Then they went single file. I was done. When they go single final, you can’t do anything. I felt like I was in a good position, and just made a move at the wrong time. I got to get better at that. I’ve done that before. Seems like for me, if I can put myself in the top three or four or five, I probably would be better off just being a little bit more patient. I’m working on that.”
How does it feel to have Barney Visser back?
“It means a lot to have him back. Honestly, it’s just good to see him doing well. I don’t know who I told, but he looked better after his surgery, three weeks after that, than he had for quite a while. I know he’s feeling better. He’s in great shape. He’s doing really well. Seen him a few weeks ago out in Denver. It’s going to be nice to have him back. Honestly, it will be fun to have him at the racetrack again. I don’t know if he’s too sad about missing out on the banquet because he didn’t have to do a speech. He doesn’t like the spotlight. He doesn’t like to get too much attention thrown on him. It kind of all worked out for him. Most of all, glad he’s healthy, doing good, able to come to the racetrack and have some fun again.”
How did it feel to see the Eagles finally win a Super Bowl?
“For the Super Bowl, quite a game, have my favorite team win their first Super Bowl, it’s kind of crazy how that all worked out. Just the game itself was amazing. Exciting the whole way through. I was on the edge of my feet, nervous as hell the whole time, all the way till the last play. It was so cool to see them win it. Juts the atmosphere there was pretty amazing.”
The season starting, you’re coming down here as the Cup champion, do you feel different?
“I do a little bit, honestly. I feel like less pressure, more relaxed, more confident than I’ve ever been. Excited to start the season, absolutely. It’s been a crazy, busy off‑season. Been a lot going on. Haven’t had much time off. I think now that the season starts, it’s kind of set in even more what we did last year, how incredible it was, how much it means to us all. Just getting to talk about it in the questions, the congrats, I mean, it’s all just still coming. It’s been pretty amazing.”
Did you need the ’16 season when you had hard luck in order to do what you did last year?
“You know, I don’t know. That’s a hard question to answer. I mean, I think any time you have to deal with disappointment, things don’t go the way you expected them to or thought they would or should, it’s a tough deal. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have to go through those things, figure out how to come out on the other side of them stronger. I don’t know. I felt like we were a great team in ’16. Things didn’t go our way. I would say we were a better team in ’17. That’s probably the reason why.”
What would it mean for you to leave here as Daytona champion?
“Just be another checked box of things that I thought I’d never do (laughter).”
Do you feel you need a Daytona 500 to be nominated for the Hall of Fame?
“I don’t. I don’t know. Honestly, I’m not really thinking about that right now. I’d love to win it obviously. We mentioned earlier, we’ve been really close. I’m not worried about what my career looks like from an overhead view right now. I’m not worried about what races I have or haven’t won. Just taking them one at a time, trying to win every one I can. Obviously this one, we’ve been really close on it. You never know what’s going to happen. We’ll just keep trying and do our best.”
Can you talk about the driver’s council?
“Yeah, you know, right now we’ve only met one time. I’m just trying to feel it out, where I fit into that. I’m a quiet guy. I like to listen a lot, take in a lot of information. If I say something, it’s going to actually be meaningful, it’s not just going to be talk. I don’t know exactly what my role will be in that yet. I’m still trying to learn that. But we’ll see. I was honored to be asked to do it. I feel like I hadn’t heard a lot of feedback, really hadn’t known exactly what was going on in those discussions, how impactful that council is to really what we do day‑to‑day in the sport. I just wanted to take it all in, feel it all out, see if I could add anything to the table.”
Anything surprise you from the first meeting?
“Not really. It was kind of a short kickoff deal. I think as we get into it more, I’ll learn more about it. But honestly just wanted to be part of it because I feel like it’s the responsibility of being a champ. But I’m also really interested in seeing just how it all goes, how it all goes down. Once again, if I can add something, that will be a bonus.”
Is there an issue you’d like to raise right off the bat?
“You know, I think the questions I had, the things that I was most worried about were already talked about in the first meeting. So I think I’m on the same page as most of the other guys. But like I said, that could change going down the road.”
Good news from Sherry.
How is she right now?
How good is it to have her here?
“She’s doing good. Feeling great. Happy for her she can start getting back to normal life. She’s starting to feel pretty good again already. It was Tuesday, so usually by Friday or Saturday she’s feeling a little under the weather. Feeling pretty good yesterday and last night. Just nice to see her get back to normal life, not having to think about in three weeks she’s going to have to take drugs again, feel like crap. Yeah, see how it all goes.”
With Junior retiring, who is going to be the next most popular driver?
“I don’t know. It sounds to me like Chase Elliott is on his way, from what everybody says. I guess there’s no telling. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Do you feel things changed, the way people approach you, demands on your time?
“Oh, yeah (laughter).”
Not just NASCAR, but do you feel like there’s been an uptick?
In a good way?
“In a good way. I’ve definitely sensed a change this off‑season. Obviously my time has been utilized by people that can get it more often and more regularly. But I have noticed a change from the fans’ perspective, getting noticed more in public, which I never really had to worry about before. It’s crazy how quickly things change. Yeah, it’s been really fun. It’s been a fun experience.”
Was it a small change or a big difference?
“No, no, not at all. I mean, it’s been a noticeable change, yeah.”
Do you miss having a teammate around?
“Not yet. I don’t know it will be a big change. For me, I feel like the way my team looks at it, the guys in the shop, for the workload, I feel like we’re in a lot better position there, at least from what I’m hearing, a lot better prepared for this season than we have been the last two. There’s been a lot less change. Last year we went to two cars, had to redo the shop, hire a bunch of people. Year before that we switched to Toyota, pretty much started over with every part and piece of racecar stuff we had in the shop. This off‑season I feel like was the most normal and calm, best prepared we’ve been. Hopefully that will be a good thing. As far as the rest of it goes, I haven’t really noticed anything yet. Got some great teammates with our alliance to JGR, the information we share. I don’t know that losing one car is a huge deal, but it’s hard to answer that right now being that we haven’t raced yet.”
What were you doing 20 years ago when Dale Earnhardt won the Daytona 500?
“I was on the couch with my dad, watching the race. Of course, Dale was my driver. To watch the heartbreaks over the years, then for him to finally win it, it was like watching the Eagles win the Super Bowl. It really was. It was so exciting. It was unbelievable that he finally got it. It was like you knew at some point in time he was going to win it, right? Until he did, you’re like, What the heck is going to happen next? That was fun. Then just watching him drive down pit road, the congratulations he got, that’s something I remember like it was yesterday. I mean, I remember exactly where I was sitting on the couch. It was like one of the coolest moments in racing history, so yeah I remember it.”
Where were you on the couch?
“I always sat in the middle, right in the middle spot. I was skooched up, like at the Super Bowl. On the edge of my eat.”
With your dad?
“With my dad. I don’t remember Ryan being there. It was definitely me and my dad.”
How did you celebrate?
“No, just got excited. That was that. I wasn’t old enough to have a drink for him or anything.”
Do you ever get tired of people asking you now if you’ve changed?
“Actually, no. It’s been okay so far. It hasn’t been too bad. I don’t feel a whole lot different. I haven’t really changed. I still do all the same stuff. I guess I feel a little different at the racetrack, not so much my personal life. I feel like the same person, but when I come to the track, I get a little more respect. I definitely feel that. That’s always a good thing.”
Does it feel harder to repeat as a champion or win the first time?
“That’s a really hard question to answer. I can tell you that I feel less pressure, like I feel more comfortable in what we’re doing, who we are, how I can drive, my abilities. I feel more confident in the fact that in those big pressure moments, when it’s on the line, we can get it done, because we have. Your biggest question when you’ve never been in those positions, you’re racing for your first championship or something, when all that pressure is there, how am I going to respond. I feel like I can do it and get through, but can I and will I. I did that, so that’s the ultimate confidence booster you could ever, ever have. That’s a situation you never know how it’s going to go until you’ve done it, had experience with it. For me, I feel really good about where we’re at. I feel really confident. But I’m really relaxed, as well. It’s like, you know, the ultimate goal in racing is to win that first championship in the Cup Series. That’s as high as you can get in stock car racing. To know we’ve done that, it’s just like, ‘Aah.’ No pressure now, let’s just go win more races, see where it all shakes out.”
What do you remember most about working on the boat? Anything there help shape your racing career?
“The biggest thing I remember was the long trips at two, three, four in the morning of just trying to stay awake. On the long trips, we’d go a long ways. You’re out there for 38 hours plus. There’s a lot of downtime. You don’t catch those clams really fast out there in the deeper water, the bigger clams. I just remember trying to stay awake in between tows. This is so boring. Then you got to go outside and freeze your you know what off for 30 minutes at a time. I remember it being tough and thinking that I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life. Those are the things I remember the most.”
Obviously you raced your dad once.
Do you wish you had the opportunity to do it more?
What do you remember about the one time you did it?
“Everything. What do you want to know? Yeah, he qualified fourth, I qualified fifth. I only ran 25 or 30 laps I think in that race. We took off on the start, he got away from me a little bit. It was my first time racing in New Hampshire in that series, in those cars. I was just trying to get comfortable, get it figured out, let the car come to me. I started running him down. I’m like, I’m catching him. My eyes are this big, catching my dad, catching my dad. Running him down, catching him, getting to two car lengths, that’s when I had my issue. We didn’t get to race. I just wanted to race him, like, get side‑by‑side or something and see. Never got that opportunity. Of course, he retired that day, so…”
Thought you might have had other races?
“He planned on racing six or eight times that year. We were going to race together some more. That day, for whatever reason, he’s like, I’m done. It’s all yours. He had a brand‑new car and engine, I had an old one. I was catching him. He’s like, I’m out. I’m done. So if you ask him, or he tells the story that he said he knew right away that I was going to be able to, like, have an opportunity to make a living in racing, which I didn’t know. I was just having fun and loving what we were doing. Loved working on cars, loved building racecars, all the stuff I was doing at those times. He was already looking down the road, knew some owners down here, knew some people in the sport. He was like, He’s going to be somebody someday. I was just having fun.”
He was a successful businessman at the same time, as well.
Did he want a Cup career?
“I think he ran some Busch races back in the mid 80s, ran Martinsville, tried to go to Rockingham once. He would race at Nazareth, Watkins Glen, those places, Busch North tracks. I think he knew at some point he was already too old and it was just a hobby for him. He was really good. I felt like he was a really good driver, competitive, probably could have made the next level at some point. He didn’t have the money for one. Didn’t have the connections. He was busy working. He was already a little bit too old, so… I think he was going to live out his dream through me at some point. It worked out pretty good.”
What did you do with the lucky rabbit’s foot?
“It’s in the motorhome. I get to keep it. I’ve thought about it a little bit. I’m not sure yet. I don’t know if I just need to keep it for the big ones, keep it in case we get to Homestead again. I don’t want to use it up. It’s been sitting there for 20‑some years gathering luck. It worked at Homestead. I don’t want to push my luck here.”
Can we borrow it?
Do you feel like now that you’ve won, is every year championship or bust?
“I don’t know. I would say it probably is at some point in the season. It’s not right now. Obviously we have a lot to accomplish. Try to put ourselves in that position, for sure. For three years in a row, honestly, we’ve been a championship‑caliber team, made the final four two‑out‑of‑three years. I would say we’d probably be disappointed if we don’t get back there. There’s a lot of things that have to go your way a lot of circumstances throughout the year. We’ll just have to wait and see. I think we can do it, but you never know until you get racing.”
When you’ve been the dominant team for three years, are all the changes, pit crew, is that bad timing?
“Pit crew, yes, just because I can’t control that. Our team doesn’t have a lot of control over that. It’s a tough thing to figure out. I don’t know honestly where anybody stacks up right now. We’ve had one pit stop. We’ll have to see. As far as car changes and rule changes and things, I’m fine. I feel like our team is really good about figuring things out quickly, moving fast. It seems like every time we have a rule change, it gives us a little edge. I’m totally fine with all that. It seems like we pick things up fast, learn them quick. Testing in the off‑season went pretty well, I feel like, what little we’ve done. We’ll see where we stack up when we get to Atlanta.”
How big of a thing do you think the new pit stops are going to be for you in the race?
“I think it’s going to be a huge deal. I didn’t see any pit stops the other day that were very good. Ours were awful. I’m sitting there, I’m like, Oh, my God, this is way worse than I anticipated. I felt like I was sitting there for a minute. I came out with three guys I came in with. Okay, we all sucked (laughter). It’s, yeah, I mean, all I’ve heard all off‑season is how difficult it is, guys are getting hurt, the guns are so slow, the guns are this. It’s going to be bad. I feel like it’s going to take a while to figure it out.”
How important was last year to get that win at Vegas?
“It was huge, I think. That was the first time we won a race early in the season like that. I think it was huge honestly. Get it out of the way, we’re in the Playoffs, don’t have to worry, put it on 10 and get rolling. I think it was a good deal. At the same time I think we just had things really figured out. It was like boom, boom action boom last year. We could just make it happen each and every week.”
That dominance on the mile‑and‑a‑half’s, did that surprise you? Guys caught up, but…
“They did catch up and they didn’t. There were times a couple different guys. Kyle (Busch) was really fast at Homestead, (Kevin) Harvick was really good at Texas, (Kyle) Larson was good consistently throughout most of them. I think not only were we one of the fastest guys all the time, we executed well, qualified well all the time, got those stage points early. I just feel like across the board, from our whole team’s perspective, we just executed really well. We didn’t make many mistakes. We didn’t give anybody an opportunity to pounce. There were times where guys were as fast as us, there were times when guys were faster, but they weren’t more consistent.”