Cagle: One of the most dominant seasons of NASCAR’s modern era

By: By Andy Cagle - Contributing columnist

Coming into 2017, Martin Truex Jr. had seven career wins.

He got his first one in 2007, then went five years without visiting victory lane before winning a race in 2013 and 2015. Since then he has 10 wins, with six coming in 2017. Those 10 are the most over the past two years in the Cup Series — one more than Kyle Busch.

Under the new format this year, he has accumulated 64 playoff points (Kyle Busch is second with 41). He also has 19 stage wins (Busch is second with 13). Putting that into perspective, defending champion Jimmie Johnson has 17 playoff points and one stage win. Johnson only has four top-fives (three of which are wins) and 11 top-10s compared to 14 and 21 for Truex. Only Kyle Larson rivals those numbers with 14 top-fives and 19 top-10s.

I know that is a bunch of numbers, but I wanted to quantify Truex’s dominance this year.

Knowing all things aren’t equal, Truex may be one of the most dominating seasons of NASCAR’s modern era. He had a great season in 2016, but lost it in the second round of the playoffs with a couple of untimely bad runs. This year, he is winning when he has to, taking the first race in rounds one and two.

He won at Charlotte last week, so he can cruise through the next two races — just like the first round.

The win is huge for Truex heading into Talladega this weekend: the race that derailed his 2016 championship hopes. After a 13th-place finish at Charlotte and an 11th place at Kansas, a blown engine at Taladega left him watching the final eight drivers duke it out for the championship. They can blow up or get caught up in the big one and still be in the final eight.

A good position to be in with the unpredictable nature of restrictor-plate racing.

“Feels pretty damned good for me,” Truex said in Sunday’s victory lane. “Just after all those years of heartbreaks and getting close and not catching the breaks and all the things going the way you don’t want them to … hey, sometimes it is your turn.”

What makes it so remarkable is the fact that Truex is not of the Hendricks or Gibbs (sort of) of the world. He drives for Furniture Row Racing and owner Barney Visser. Based in Denver, Colo. (not Denver, N.C.), the team is a world away from the NASCAR motherland. This can prove to be a detriment to attracting the best talent, but you can’t say crew chief Cole Pearn isn’t one of the best in the business and has elevated Visser’s mile-high operation.

Also remarkable is the fact that the team has, for most of its history, been a single-car operation. The team did field a second car this year for Eric Jones, but will return to a one-car deal next year as Jones moves to Joe Gibbs Racing.

In today’s NASCAR, both of these things just don’t happen. Hell, even Richard Petty and the Wood Brothers moved to the Charlotte area a long time ago, and the last time a single-car team won a championship was 23 years ago when Dale Earnhardt won his seventh.

The success is a testament to Truex’s maturation as a driver — usually drivers don’t have great careers after having two five-year non-winning streaks and then become world beaters. It also shows how staying the course pays off.

Visser had one win in the Cup Series prior to 2015. That came with driver Regan Smith in the 2012 Southern 500. Visser first fielded a team in in 2005 with a dude named Jerry Robertson (?) and Kenny Wallace and didn’t run a full season until 2010 with Smith. Before hiring Kurt Busch to drive the car in 2013, they had only led 48 laps in Cup competition (Smith only led two laps in that Southern 500 win).

In the last two years, Truex has led 3,786 laps and Jones has led 310.

It’ll be a shame if Truex doesn’t win the championship this year. He and Furniture Row team have put together a great season by working the new points better than anyone.

It really is a good underdog story, much better than the status quo in NASCAR and something positive to talk about.

Andy Cagle, a former spokesman for Rockingham Speedway and motorsports public relations consultant, writes about NASCAR in a weekly column.

By Andy Cagle

Contributing columnist