Martin Truex Jr.’s frustration may very well be fantasy players’ bliss.
For the past two seasons, he has entered the Ford 400 with a shot at the championship. In 2018 he clearly had the best car over long runs, but a late-race caution allowed Joey Logano to blaze past. Last year he had a solid car, but could not keep pace with his teammate Kyle Busch.
In both of those years, he came up one position short of defending his 2017 Cup. Perhaps more frustrating still was the fact that he allowed Busch to put his name in the record books as the first repeat champion under the current points’ format.
Instituted in 2014, it is still taking a while for teams to determine how best to strategize the knockout style format. With the increased emphasis on winning and the bonus points they provide to help advance through the rounds, teams have been more willing to gamble than in previous years.
Truex’s 2017 championship season featured eight wins. Accompanying that were 19 top-fives and 26 top-10s. As he gambled with increasing frenzy, he won only four times in 2018. His top-five output was nearly the same, but he scored five fewer top-10s (21).
Last year, Truex seemed to roll the dice even more at the start of the season. It took nine weeks before he found Victory Lane at Richmond 1. He had a pair of second-place finishes in the first eight races, but those were his only top-fives. Worse still, he finished outside the top 10 at Texas and Bristol in back-to-back weeks.
Fantasy experts thought his Richmond 1 win would turn his season around, but that all-or-nothing attitude remained. Truex’s first three wins of the years were all followed by results of 19th or worse.
Truex started to find a little rhythm in the middle of the season with three consecutive top-10s that included a Sonoma win. But then he was outside the top 15 in back-to-back races, in the top 10 for four events, and out of the top 10 for three.
Consistency is probably the most important weapon in a handicapper’s arsenal. Truex simply did not have it – until the playoffs began, that is.
Truex was waiting for the championship run. On the heels of three sub-par performances including a 27th in the Brickyard 400, Truex rattled off back-to-back wins at Las Vegas and Richmond during the Round of 16. He finished seventh on the Charlotte Roval and was second at Dover. If not for damage in the wild card race of Talladega 2, he probably would have swept the top 10 during the playoffs.
Truex scored his seventh and final win of the season at Martinsville after recording a perfect Driver Rating. He had every right to expect to win the championship. His principle rival Busch was stumbling through the playoffs while Kevin Harvick was still trying to find the same level of consistency.
Ultimately, Truex was outrun at Homestead by one driver. In the closing races of 2019, however, there was not a better overall fantasy value.
The wild card this year will be the loss of Cole Pearn. Truex has relied on his imagination and skill as a crew chief through the most successful seasons of his career and it is going to be difficult to trust James Small as implicitly.
The decision on where to start Truex will come down entirely to momentum. He is good on every track except the aero-restricted superspeedways where his recent penchant for crashing has emptied fantasy coffers. His newfound ability on short tracks, plus his ability on unrestricted, intermediate speedways and road courses makes him a triple threat and there is not much that will keep him from earning top-fives in at least two-thirds of the races in 2020.
Three Best Tracks
Homestead (10.2 in 15 attempts)
Charlotte Roval (10.5 in 2)
Watkins Glen (10.6 in 14)
Three Worst Tracks
Daytona (22.1 in 29)
Talladega (21.4 in 30)
Indy (21.3 in 15)
Victories: (7) Richmond 1 & 2, Dover 1, Coke 600, Sonoma, Las Vegas 2, and Martinsville 2
Top-fives: 15 (.417)
Top-10s: 24 (.667)
Top-15s: 27 (.750)
2019 Finishes at or above rank = 12 (33.3%)
Recent articles featuring Martin Truex Jr.:
2019 Driver Rating
Ride the Rhythm: short track success
Fast and Smooth: 2-mile success
Buttering the Bread: 1.5-mile success
Battling the Bullrings: Short track success
Streaking in 2019
2020 Driver Profiles:
3. Joey Logano
4. Kevin Harvick
5. Chase Elliott
6. Denny Hamlin
7. Brad Keselowski
8. Ryan Blaney
9. Kyle Larson
10. Erik Jones
11. Clint Bowyer
12. Alex Bowman
13. William Byron
14. Aric Almirola
15. Kurt Busch
16. Christopher Bell
17. Ryan Newman
18. Matt DiBenedetto
19. Jimmie Johnson
20. Tyler Reddick
21. Chris Buescher
22. Cole Custer
23. Austin Dillon
24. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
25. Ryan Preece
26. Ty Dillon
27. Bubba Wallace
28. Michael McDowell
29. Ross Chastain
30. Daniel Suarez