Toyota Racing – Martin Truex Jr.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Media Day
LAS VEGAS (September 12, 2019) – Joe Gibbs Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. was made available to media at Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Media Day.
MARTIN TRUEX JR., No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How do you feel about your chances going in?
“Yeah, it has been a pretty good year. It’s been a little bit up and down. Feeling good about things. Four wins and I feel like we have a great team. Feeling lately, we have been really fast, and things just haven’t gone our way. A few mistakes here and there, some stuff happening that has been odd, but I feel like performance wise we are there. If we can keep mistakes to a minimum, not beat ourselves, I definitely see us having a shot at this thing. I feel like if we can get to Homestead, I feel really good about it. Yeah, we will see if we can do it again.”
How does your past playoff experience play into this?
“I think that more than anything it’s a confidence thing. If you have been there and done that, you understand the pressure of the Playoff, you understand the intensity, what it’s going to feel like and how to just block out the things you need to block out to focus on your job. That comes with experience, and the last four years we have had really good Playoff runs. You hope you find that magic. Sometimes it can be hard to find, but for us, I feel like when the Playoffs start, we are at our best. Hopefully, we can do that again.”
Can you talk about your thoughts on the carryover points into the Playoffs due to wins?
“Since stage racing, Playoff points – bonus points – going into the Playoffs has been huge. We’ve seen the importance of it before. We got knocked out by one or two points in 2016 before Playoff points deal started, so we’ve seen the benefit and what it’s like to not have them. Really, in the regular season, after you have that first win, it’s like ok, what do we have to do to get more Playoff points. That is your whole focus – Playoff points. That’s all you focus on. So, stage wins for bonus points, and all these things. So, they are huge. Especially the first couple rounds. I feel like for us, if we don’t beat ourselves, the first round should be pretty simple. It should go pretty easy. That’s where you try to build that momentum, that confidence. But again, we’ve seen that anything can happen. With three-race eliminations, it’s really, really tough. If you have one bad race, next thing you know, you are sitting on the bubble. That’s when you really bank on those Playoff points.”
That’s kind of how it should be though, right. To reward you for the regular season success.
“It gives something to push for after you get locked in. Everybody wants to win races. We don’t need something to push us to want to win. We are all out there to win, but the bonus points are a huge piece fruit hanging there that you want to grab. It definitely keeps your team motivated. It makes important to run well every weekend.”
Do you think the package is going to change how people race in the Playoffs?
“We’ve seen the aggression behind this year. It seems like the field is tighter. The field is closer together – blocking and drafting and everything that goes along with that. For sure it has been ramped up. When everything is on the line with 10 races, it seems to ramp up things even more, so I would say yeah. We will just have to see how it all pans out. Aggression level will be up there.”
Have you changed your mind on what you may have to do on the track to advance especially after last season’s incident in Martinsville ?
“Slightly. Slightly different. I think that I would certainly do Martinsville differently. But, till you in those moments, you just don’t know how you are going to react or what you going to do. It’s not like you plan these things, it just comes naturally. I think for me experience and understanding the guys I race with – who will do what and who won’t do what – definitely makes you think about it more.”
Have you thought about what a second championship would mean to you?
“I’m here to win. I really don’t think about those kind of things. If you think about it, it messes with your head. Yeah, I try not to think about those things. I try to go out there and do the best that I can and hopefully have the opportunity to enjoy it someday.”
It appears from the outside world that nothing has really changed from last year except the car number and the owner. Is that what it is like for you?
“I would say that a lot of things have stayed very similar for me. I would say for our team guys and especially for Cole (Pearn, crew chief) things have been a lot different. For me, it has been real similar. I’m very comfortable where I’m at. I’m very focused. I’ve got a lot of confidence in my team. I’ve got a lot of confidence in what’s going around us. I think the feeling of just being more comfortable in my environment, being more settled, longer-term contract, not a single car team, I’m not worried about what’s going to happen next year. Been through a lot of things in the last couple years really. Just in a comforting spot and excited about this team and what we can do in the next couple years together.”
Is it different that you are racing teammates for the title this year?
“Yes and no. I would say, in general, we treated each other like teammates last year – last couple seasons really. So really just the same cast of characters, pretty much. I think the respect level between all of us is really high. We’ve raced together for a long time, Denny (Hamlin), Kyle (Busch) and I especially, but even Erik (Jones) the last couple seasons, since we were teammates at Furniture Row. He’s really come into his own this last year, year and a half. We have a lot of respect for one another. Obviously, the intensity level gets ramped up in the Playoffs. It’s 10 races, and we know that our stiffest competition could be our teammates. But you just have to do what’s best for you, and not put anyone in a bad position.”
There was a stretch this season that it seemed like every other week you were in Victory Lane. Can you rekindle some of that?
“I think we had a little bit of a lull after those four, but I feel like the last five or six races, we’ve been really good. We’ve been in position to do a lot of great things; things just haven’t played out. We’ve have had a few mistakes here and there – flat tire at Bristol, loose wheel at Michigan. Some really good strong runs and leading stages – being in a position to win a stage and the caution comes out late, and you have to pit and track position flips. Those kind of things have just taken us out of a few races. Finished second at Watkins Glen, and I think Michigan, we were second or third. We’ve been right there; we just haven’t had that magic. Nothing has gone the way we want it to. We just need that little bit extra. Hopefully, we can turn it up this weekend.”
Can you talk about your progress on the mile-and-a-half tracks?
“Yeah, for sure. I feel like we’ve made a lot of gains. We’ve made up a lot of ground. Winning Charlotte was big. But I think for the whole field, the bigger tracks have been such a challenge too, because they are all so different now. Something as small as a change in the weather throughout the weekend could almost make you say, ‘dang, I wish we brought another car. We didn’t build our car right or this or that.’ It’s been really hard to just hit it, because all of the tracks are so different. It’s the first time with the new package. I just feel like this package in general has been way harder to hit it. I think that’s why we have seen different guys at different tracks really stand out and guys that you think are going to run good here don’t. We’ve been in that position. It’s just been really, really tough to guess right on what you need on these places.”
So, what has been your thinking process this weekend with the weather so much hotter than it was in the spring?
“I think everybody is looking at it like yeah, it’s going to be way hotter. How do we approach it? Again, it’s still kind of a big guess for everybody. Some guys are going hit, some guys aren’t. I feel like we have a good approach. I think Cole (Pearn, crew chief) is fired up about it and excited and feels like we are going to be good this weekend. That always gives me confidence.”
For younger drivers, it has been said that fear is a good motivator for them. Now that you are a little more comfortable, where does the motivation come from?
“That is a good question. I think for me it’s just passion. This is what I do. This is what I love. I feel like I’m more fired up and excited about the Playoffs than I have ever been. It’s such a big opportunity to be in this position – winning races with a great team. Just try to seize the moment. You can’t do that forever.”
So comfortable, but not taking it for granted?
“No question. I’ve been on the other side of it, and it wasn’t that long ago. Feeling fortunate for sure and lucky. Yeah, just excited to be on a great team and have another chance to go for the championship.”
Can you talk about the cutoff race in the first round – the Roval, and the finish from last year?
“Yeah, that one hurt. It hurt for sure. It was frustrating. Fortunately, we were able to make it to the next round and at the end of the day that is what it is all about. It would have been nice to have those playoff points – that five for the win. At the end of the day, we got to where we needed to even with that happening, as far as getting to the Final Four. It was frustrating and you want to win. It’s like, you guys went winless in the playoffs last year, and I’m like well, yeah. We got spun out coming to the checkers there, and we got wrecked coming to the checkers in Martinsville. Two of the biggest ones, we were in position to win. It just didn’t happen. That’s racing, and that’s how things go. You try to learn from each of those things, and hopefully, this year we can do better.”
What kind of strategy change is there when you race into the night here?
“Yeah, it’s going to be different. It’s going to be interesting for sure. Especially this year with the cars and the rules that we are running at the mile-and-a-half tracks. The weather is such a big factor on how the cars run, or if the car is good or not. So, it’s going to be really tough.”
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