JOLIET, Ill. (AP) — Martin Truex Jr. just celebrated his 38th birthday. He has won two of his last three races. He is spending this weekend at one of his favorite tracks.
So yes, life is quite good at the moment.
Truex appears to be picking up some momentum as he tries to become the first repeat NASCAR Cup Series champion since Jimmie Johnson won five in a row from 2006 to 2010. He goes for his third consecutive victory at Chicagoland Speedway this Sunday.
“This track has always been really good for me. Obviously, the last two years, it’s been really good,” said Truex, who turned 38 on Friday. “I had to overcome a lot of issues here both years it seems like to be able to get the win. That’s kind of neat looking back on our two races here, what we had to overcome to win. This year is going to be different, I think.”
Truex had to deal with a completely unraveled tire on his way to the Chicagoland victory in 2016. He had an early pit-road penalty last year, but he led for 75 laps and finished more than 7 seconds ahead of second-place Chase Elliott.
Truex and the rest of the Cup Series face a different challenge on this visit to the bumpy 1.5-mile oval. Chicagoland was being staged in September as NASCAR’s playoff opener, but it has a mid-summer date this season and the forecast calls for temperatures in the 90s.
Truex was 12th in qualifying on Saturday, turning a lap in 174.656 mph. But his car failed its inspection, sending him all the way back to the 36th starting position.
“Grip’s been tough to find this weekend for a lot of guys,” he said. “New tires as well, so I mean there’s a lot of new things going on. It’s definitely going to be tougher, I would imagine that the groove’s going to be probably on average a little bit higher than when we run here in the fall. I think more guys are going to get the top working. It’s definitely going to be different, but how much it’s hard to say right now.”
Truex is coming off a win last weekend at Sonoma, outdueling Kevin Harvick on the road course for his third victory of the season in his Furniture Row Racing Toyota. He also won at Pocono on June 3, holding off a hard-charging Kyle Larson.
Truex, Harvick and Kyle Busch have combined for 12 wins in the first 16 races on the Cup Series. The only other winners this season are Austin Dillon, Clint Bowyer and Joey Logano.
With his three victories, Truex could use the rest of the summer to experiment with his car ahead of the playoffs. But Truex called that strategy “a little bit overblown.”
“The experimentation thing I think is something that is more old school,” he said. “This day and age you want to have confidence in the things you’re doing and continue to do them. So that’s kind of the approach we’ll take.”
Here are a few more things to watch in the Cup Series’ return to Chicagoland:
JIMMIE’S SEASON: Johnson is still looking for his first win this season, and Chicagoland is one of three tracks on the Cup Series schedule where he is without a victory. He finished second in 2004, 2008 and 2012. But the track also is the site of his only win in 83 starts on the XFinity Series. He has 83 Cup wins, one away from matching Hall of Famers Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip.
REMEMBERING JASON: A couple drivers were planning to pay tribute to Jason Johnson, a sprint car driver who died last weekend at age 41 following a crash at Beaver Dam Raceway in Wisconsin. Larson said he will have a “Forever 41” sticker in place of where his name would be on his car.
KEEPING THE FAITH: Daniel Suarez finished 15th last weekend at Sonoma. He is 19th in the season standings and needs to get going to make the playoffs, but he remains confident. “We’re going to make it. I will tell you that,” he said.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap
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