The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, along with the Nationwide Series, goes road course racing this upcoming weekend at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet, has never won at The Glen, but he did pull into victory lane at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, the other road course race visited by the Sprint Cup Series, last year. And while Truex hasn’t won a lot of races, he’s generally a solid performer at road course events.
Truex participated in a NASCAR weekly teleconference on Wednesday to preview Sunday’s race at Watkins Glen. He also talked about, among other things, getting into the Chase for the Sprint Cup under the new criteria, and also getting kicked out of last year’s Chase as a Michael Waltrip Racing driver because of MWR’s trouble at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway, the last race before the 2013 Chase. Here’s what he had to say:
Q. With your win at Sonoma last year and a solid record at Watkins Glen, this weekend could be a good opportunity for you and your team to score a win and a spot in the Chase. Talk about your strategy going into this weekend.
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Yeah, sure. It’s definitely a big weekend for our team. Obviously it’s not been the season that we had hoped it would be, and definitely not sitting where we’d like to be in points. But we felt like Watkins Glen would be a good place for us to kind of put in a little bit of extra effort. We decided to go out there and test just a few weeks ago and try to improve our chances because that’s been a good track for me and also the team has been good on road courses in the past, too. Decided to go test there and try to put a little bit of extra effort in for this race, and hopefully it’ll go well for us and we can run up front and hopefully have a shot at getting in a first win at Watkins Glen.
Q. Martin, kind of an offbeat question for you here: I’m wondering, if you had your choice on a typical day, what would you eat and drink for lunch, dinner, breakfast and a snack?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Let’s see. That’s a good question. Breakfast, I don’t normally eat breakfast. I don’t normally get up before about 10:00. But if I did, my favorite is a ham and cheese omelette. Lunch, I don’t usually eat a big lunch. Usually if I go out or something, it’ll be like a salad with grilled chicken on it or something simple like that, maybe some buffalo shrimp or something like that. And dinner, I really love seafood, so it would be something like -- shrimp is probably my favorite, so some kind of shrimp dinner.
Q. What about a snack?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: I like granola bars, those peanut butter ones made by Nature Valley I think they’re called. Those are my favorite snack.
Q. As far as beverages, what would you drink for your various meals there?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: I typically drink water most of the time. With dinner I like to have a little bit of Captain and ginger ale as a little cocktail.
Q. It looked like a couple months ago you had the back-to-back top 10s at Dover and Pocono and things seemed to be heading in the right direction, but since then no other top 10s. Do you feel like your team has any momentum at all at this point?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: I don’t know. Honestly it’s just been really tough. We had, like you said, a couple good runs there and went to Charlotte for the 600 and had probably the best car we’ve had all year long. We ran around the top 5 all night and ended up breaking an axle I think with seven or eight laps to go and got a bad finish there, and it seems like ever since we haven’t been able to gain any momentum. It seems like the weeks that we’ve had pretty good race cars and seemed like the weekend was going well, something bad would happen like Pocono this last weekend getting caught up in that big wreck.
You know, honestly it’s hard to say. It’s just been really tough for us to gain any kind of consistency, not only with our finishes but with our race cars. It seems like we’ve really struggled a lot just to find any kind of balance with our cars, and to where we could go throughout a weekend and have something that we could work with. So we’ve kind of been searching. We’ve been a little bit all over the map as far as those things go. But at the end of the day, the guys are working really, really hard and trying to figure it out. We just haven’t quite got our arms around the car and the new setups and all the things that go along with it, so we’re kind of searching.
But again, if we could just have one good race, one win could change your whole season with the way the system is now. We’re staying optimistic. We’re working hard, and we’re trying to look at the positives in everything and just try to go forward and have a better weekend next weekend.
Q. Do any of this season’s struggles make you kind of rue what happened last year? You seem to have kind of like, hey, things happen and you just move on, but I would think with the year that you’re having it maybe adds to the frustration.
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: I would say you’re right on, you’re spot on with that. I think that a season like this makes you think of a lot of things. I come home every weekend after the weekend and tell myself, next weekend is going to be better. It’s got to be better. It can’t get worse. It’s been a tough season. But I have thought more about it, about what happened last year because things are going bad this year. But at the end of the day, it’s still last year and it’s still in the past. You still can’t change it, so you’ve just got to move on. It’s just one of those things. It’s been really frustrating, the whole season, but we’ve got to stay positive. We’ve got to keep working hard and get this thing turned around.
Q. Obviously the Cup cars probably aren’t really built for road courses like an Indy car or a sports car, but some drivers just don’t like the road courses and then other drivers just take to it. Why do you think it is that you’ve done well on road courses and why you seem to be able to do better than a lot of the others?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Well, I think it’s a combination of things. I think first of all I enjoy the road courses. Going back to when I first started racing in go-karts, I ran road courses. I ran on road courses in the K&N Series back when I drove those, and it was just something I looked forward to every year and still do to this day.
But when you get to this level, you’ve got to have great cars, you’ve got to have great equipment, you’ve got to have great teams. There’s so much that goes into being a good road course driver or having a good car on a road course. It takes a lot of things. I’ve been fortunate over the years to have good race cars and teams that understand road racing, and obviously have enjoyed it and have had decent success at it. Definitely looking forward to this weekend. I think it’ll be a chance for us for sure to have a good run and hopefully turn things around because it’s been pretty rough lately. Hopefully it’ll go well, and I’m looking forward to it.
Q. And road courses sometimes give fans kind of a different take than the regular NASCAR race. Do you think that the Cup Series should try to do another road course like Atlanta or Wisconsin or something like that?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Well, I think just to do two road courses a year, you’re going to build two or three road course cars. I think it would probably be a good idea to do a few more. I think the fans enjoy them. I think obviously if they could find the right place to go and get the people to show up, I think it would be a good thing. I think that obviously it seems like every time we go to a road course, it’s a really good race and an exciting race, and that’s what we need. I think it’s definitely on the radar of everyone, and we’ll just have to see how it goes.
Q. Martin, I understand the frustration and the struggles of the season and have kind of heard some drivers in the past talk about looking at running another series, running another car, something else different, and just trying to get back to winning a race just to get back to that feeling, just to get that confidence. Is that not a direction you’re interested in? Is that not a direction you want to go? I don’t think you’ve really run much of anything else. Is that something you’re looking at or would you consider, or is there so much that needs to be focused on with your current situation?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Well, I mean, I think you bring up a good point. It’s something that -- I haven’t been able to run any Nationwide races in a few years because the teams I’ve been driving for have no teams or are not associated with any Nationwide teams or anything like that, so I do miss that. Back when I drove at DEI and my first few years at Michael Waltrip Racing, I was able to run some Nationwide races and really enjoyed it. It’s just hard honestly to put that stuff together nowadays. If somebody is out there with a competitive Nationwide car, give me a call; I’m ready to go. I definitely would like to do something like that just for -- not really for the confidence side of it, just because racing is fun, and it’s something that I would enjoy doing. I just haven’t had that opportunity. It hasn’t presented itself. Definitely not out of the equation, though.
Q. And just looking ahead to the Chase, and I understand that your focus is on getting into it at this point, but with the new format and the eliminations, how much do you think it can change things? Obviously it’s still about winning or still about getting as good a performance as you can, but when you only have a three-race window and have the potential to be eliminated, you’re racing against a larger group of cars now with 16 in the field, how does that change things or does that just make it even more that stays the same because it’s still all about the same things at the end of the day?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Well, I think it makes it more difficult without a doubt. I think obviously the emphasis is on winning with the new system, and honestly, you don’t want to just luck into winning a race and make the Chase and be out in the first four weeks. The guys that get in there, they want to be competitive. They want to go after a championship. And at this point for us, we’re not there yet as a team. We’re not where we need to be.
I think for us, it’s not really just about trying to go out and sneak out a win to make the Chase. It’s about going out and getting a win to boost our confidence as a team, to move us forward, to help us think, okay, we’re making progress. At the end of the day, we all want to win races, and if we would be able to do that, I think that would be bigger just to win than it would be winning just to make the Chase. You don’t want to just make the Chase to get knocked out in the first four rounds. We’re just racing each week, taking each week like it’s a new week and going out there and trying to do the best job we can and move our team forward.
Q. The Tony Stewart situation in 2011, when he went winless, the first 26 races and went on to win the championship with winning half the Chase races, is that something that you can point to as a team and say, look, here’s another team that had its struggles throughout the season and then when the Chase started was in it, got the new life and look at how they took advantage of it?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: I think everybody looks at what happened that year and says, how in the world did that happen, because let’s be honest, it’s never happened -- nothing like that has ever happened, and most likely won’t happen again like that. That was a crazy deal how that all worked out.
But yeah, I think everybody is trying to figure out how do we take that next step, because it’s so competitive. We’re not talking about you’ve got to change your whole team and you’ve got to build all new cars and this and that. I mean, you find two tenths, all of a sudden you’re going from 20th to running in the top 5. It’s so competitive nowadays. You’ve just got to find those little things that can make a difference for your team and carry those through each and every single weekend.
We’re not far, but we’ve got to find those little things, and that’s what we’re focusing on you.
Q. You mentioned K&N, and we’ve got Kenzie Ruston coming up here next on the conference call. Can you talk about how that series, the K&N Pro Series, has become like the feeder series for guys that are going into Nationwide and Cup?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Yeah, sure. As long as I can remember, I’ve been somewhat a part of that series with my father racing back when it was Busch North from the early ’90s, and I’ve seen it change over the years from mostly predominantly northeastern drivers and teams, small teams, to today, development drivers for Cup teams and things like that. So it’s changed a lot over the years, and it’s just a great series because the cars are very, very similar to what we run. They run on some of the same tracks, New Hampshire and Dover, Watkins Glen, places where drivers can showcase their talents behind the wheel, and it’s just been a great series over the years.
Obviously it was a big part of my career and me getting a chance to move to North Carolina and drive for Chance 2. Definitely a series that I still pay attention to. I have a lot of interest in it just because it’s part of who I am as a racer, and I enjoy watching them today, and it’s neat to see the kids come up and kind of come up the same way I did.
Q. Do you think that it’s the leading kind of beginner series for these people that are aspiring to move on with their careers right now, and do Cup and Nationwide car owners keep track of the people that are racing at that level?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: I definitely think it’s the -- it’s where you would want to be if you were a young kid and you were trying to figure out how to get to the next level. It’s definitely the place to be without a doubt, and part of that is because the teams are located here in North Carolina in the Mooresville area close to all the other teams. A lot of them have affiliations. Turner Motorsports has four or five cars. There’s a lot of -- they’re kind of here in the NASCAR hub, all the teams and things like that. A lot of the guys that work on the cars have worked on Cup cars and Nationwide cars, and listen, everybody around here knows each other and everybody is kind of -- it’s kind of a close-knit deal.
Yeah, I think the owners for sure pay attention to what’s going on, and if there’s a kid winning every week and really doing some great things, people are going to know it, and that’s part of the reason why it’s such a big deal.
Q. In the upstate New York area, could you rate your experience, and if you’re able to get off the track, some of the things that you’re able to do, Corning area, Watkins Glen area?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: I’ll be honest, I don’t leave the track a whole lot on race weekends, but I’ve obviously spent a lot of time up there throughout the years, again, back when I drove in the K&N Series and Nationwide and now Cup, and just a beautiful area of the country. I really loved it. I’m a big fisher, and I love to fish, and one of the things that I always regret when I go up there is I don’t get out and do any fishing, but usually the schedule is too busy. But beautiful part of the country, have always enjoyed going up there, and we definitely have a great fan base in that area without a doubt.
Q. And secondly, we’ve been having some pretty crazy weather up here, kind of rainy every afternoon and evening. How often or how much do you pay attention to the weather forecast and look ahead towards the weekend?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: We pretty much watch it all week before the race. We talk about it in our meetings on Monday, looking forward to the upcoming race and what it’s going to look like and kind of plan our strategy around that as far as practice and qualifying go usually. But Watkins Glen it’s hard to say. Pretty much at some point every weekend we go there it seems like it rains a little. It’s kind of hard to predict too much. We were up there testing last week, and I think the first day we only made about eight laps because it rained the rest of the day. You just never know what you’re going to get there. You’ve got to be ready for anything, and it’s the same for everyone, so I guess it’s not a big deal.
Q. You mentioned earlier that you’ve been having kind of a struggle this season, but in terms of your chemistry with your team compared to when it was Daytona Speedweeks, how much would you say that you guys have gelled together? I know the performances are not showing it, but would you say that you’ve gelled a lot better since February?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Oh, yeah, for sure I think we have. I really feel like we’re all on the same page and we’re all confident in each other. Things are really, from a team standpoint, I feel like everything is going really well. It just seems like we can’t -- we just can’t put our finger on what exactly we’re missing or doing wrong. I feel like we’re all working together the way we need to, and the communication is good. Really I don’t feel like we’re missing anything in that department.
Yeah, I mean, it’s been kind of a mystery to be honest. I think a lot of it has been -- we’ve had a lot of mechanical failures which we obviously need to figure that out and we’re working on that, but as far as the communication and working together and staying positive and looking at the right things, I feel like we’re doing all that, but at the end of the day when you’re not getting the results you want, you have to look at everything. Certainly we’re doing that and talking each week about what we can do better, each and every one of us, so we’re constantly looking in the mirror and saying what can I do better, what can I do better, and it’s just a work in progress and things we’ve got to figure out.
Q. When I interviewed your brother at Loudon, he mentioned that he’s kind of the prankster in your family. Have you ever retaliated back when he’s done a prank on you?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: He’s always doing pranks. I don’t know what he does. He likes to play on the phone. Every weekend it seems like at some point he takes a picture of somebody on an airplane and somehow he draws on the pictures and posts them on Twitter and all this mess. He’s always up to something. He’s the quiet, sneaky one.
Q. I would have thought because you’re the older brother you’d get back at him, though.
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Yeah, but he’s always plotting and scheming things. Simple things, like if you’re sitting in a chair he’ll walk by and pull on your shoelace and untie your shoe. He’s always up to something. I can’t keep up with that. I’ve got too much other stuff going on.
Q. I know you said that the Chase is not really your goal at this point but to win races to build the team morale. Let’s say the ideal situation happens on Sunday where you’re in position to win but your car is struggling towards the end. Are you going to go for the second place finish or do you take that risk and kind of over-drive the car to try to get that win if you’re in that position?
MARTIN TRUEX JR.: Any time you can see the lead, you’re going after it. It doesn’t matter what the situation is.