Martin Truex Jr. looks to become the first back-to-back Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion in eight seasons beginning Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Truex Jr. enters the weekendâ€™s South Point Casino 400 as the No. 3 seed on the playoff grid thanks to his four regular season wins. The Furniture Row Racing will begin his defense of last yearâ€™s championship trailing Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick by 15 points in the standings.
Truex Jr. faces another challenge besides trying to overcome the duo in front of him and the other 13 drivers in the title race. News of Furniture Row Racing ceasing operations at seasonâ€™s end rocked the NASCAR world and threw the No. 78 team into perceived turmoil.
However, Truex Jr. has a different outlook on the unfortunate situation and does not believe it will be an obstacle to overcome in his quest for his second championship.
â€œI feel like weâ€™re in a great place,â€� Truex Jr. said. â€œWe definitely want to repeat, no question about it. I think you could take it one of two ways, you could hang your head down and say, â€˜This sucks, why are we in this position,â€™ and get mad at the world or you can look at each other and say, â€˜Letâ€™s go do this.â€™ Thatâ€™s where weâ€™re at.â€�
The way Truex Jr. sees it, the scenario thrust upon the team will serve as more of a rallying cry and motivation than a detriment.
â€œI feel like our team, look 2014 we all were not very good and you look at the names on our team and when you say some of the names on our team that worked there, their names were made at Furniture Row,â€� Truex Jr. explained. â€œThey were made because (team owner) Barney (Visser) gave us the opportunity to work there at a great place and gave us all the tools that we needed to go win a championship.
â€œI think all of us, we look at that and say, â€˜Hell yeah, letâ€™s go do this. Letâ€™s send Barney out on top and letâ€™s give him the best going away gift that we ever could.â€™ I feel like, I honestly, truly feel like that is our mindset and thatâ€™s our focus and I have no questions about where our team is and how theyâ€™re going to approach the playoffs.â€�
Kicking things off at the 1.5-mile LVMS should be beneficial to Truex Jr. He has a 4.5 finishing average in his last four races at the track, including a victory last year and a fourth-place result earlier this year. And in the last 1.5-mile race, which was at Kentucky Speedway in July, Truex was perfect, winning all three stages.
â€œYeah, itâ€™s a fun place to come and kickoff the playoffs and itâ€™s been a good track for us,â€� Truex Jr. said. â€œWe won here last year and I think we ran fourth this spring, but that being said itâ€™s going to be a lot different race this time around.
â€œComing later in the season is always different, but really itâ€™s the weather â€“ 100 degrees on Sunday is going to be quite a challenge and it will be a lot different than normal. Excited about it and excited to get it all kicked off and at the same time have a little bit of questions and weâ€™ll see how it all goes, optimistic and excited to get going.â€�