Q&A with Martin Truex Jr. ahead of Daytona 500

Joe Gibbs Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. was made available to media via videoconference prior to the Daytona 500 next Sunday:

MARTIN TRUEX JR., No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

Have you had any conversations with Denny Hamlin? What do you think is the key to his success at superspeedways?

“We definitely talk. We have team meetings about a speedway race, pretty much every time during the weekend or right before. I really understand the strategy involved. Now, when it comes to unique things and how you make moves and things like that, Denny is obviously very good at Daytona and Talladega, speedway racing. Those are little things that he doesn’t really share, but we do have access to him a little bit.”

This is the one race that you and Kyle Busch haven’t won. What would it mean to cross it off?

“It would be huge. We’ve been trying for a long time. It’s a tough race to win. We’ve been really close. I think for us, trying how to be better at speedway racing is something in general that we’ve worked on over the last handful of years. I feel like we have made some gains there for sure, but still not getting the results that we want. Still working hard on it, and I think for us, the biggest thing is trying to figure out a way to get to the end of the race, and that’s the biggest thing. I feel like every time we make it to the end of one of these speedway races, we’re in the hunt and we have a chance, but still working on how to be better with technique and moves, understanding the draft and how it works with the car because it changes each year. See what the rules are like and go from there.”

Joe Gibbs Racing announced an extension with Denny Hamlin. Where are things with you?

“We have had talks and things have moved forward.”

Does it get more frustrating or less frustrating if you get caught up in wrecks at superspeedways?

“It definitely does not get any easier. It’s still just frustrating as you can say. Especially, when you run 450-miles and things are going well, your car is good, you’re in a good position, and you feel like this time things may be a little bit different and then boom, here’s the big wreck right in front of you. It doesn’t get any less frustrating that’s for sure, but you understand that it’s a part of it. I just look at every avenue of strategy, and what can I do each race. It just seems like each race is so different. You just have to kind of shift and adjust on the fly and hope you make the right decision as far as where you are running the field and the cars you are around. There’s really no science behind it. It just happens or it doesn’t it seems like.”

What is your mindset and expectations going into this season?

“I’m optimistic that we will have a better season. I think last year that we had a lot of near misses, a lot of tough breaks, a lot of great race cars along the way and obviously, some races that we were off and that we didn’t do the job that we should have or needed too. I think last year there was a lot of unique challenges without having practice and that’s probably one of the biggest things that hurt us, especially the first half of the year, when we came back from the COVID shutdown. I felt like throughout the season, we got better and better at that, and towards the end of the year, we were right where we needed to be, and we really had a strong Playoffs. We just had a couple of near misses there. Obviously, the Darlington crash and the loose wheel at Martinsville while leading, I feel like we were in position to go to the Final Four. There was a lot of opportunities for us last year to have a great season and we came up short on a lot of those little key areas and decisions or little mistakes along the way, and things like that. We’re all looking at trying to get better. I think part of our sport is how do you get better all the time, and that’s really what you are looking at. We understand some things we could have done better. Hopefully, we will find some speed in our race cars this year going into the season and we can put it all together.”

Second race this season is at the Daytona road course. What do you expect with this race this season?

“I expect it to be a good race. It was a really fun track. I felt like it was well suited for our cards, and I think going back with the lower downforce package and a softer tire is going make racing even better. I really enjoyed it. I felt like it was a fun race, and it was pretty unique to go there for the first time really and not have any practice on a road course like that. I thought everybody did a really good job. It was a fun race. Going there for the Clash under the lights with no points on the line, it should be a heck of a show.”

This is the first season without Jimmie Johnson in a long time. Do you feel like you have to take a new role because of that?

“I don’t know that you ever take on a different role in this sport. I think you are who you are, and you just try to be true to yourself and true to your fans and do what’s best for the sport. I think that Jimmie (Johnson) was a great champion, a legend if you look at seven championships. That’s not a guy you just replace. Somebody will probably step up, and maybe be a bigger voice, or a bigger personality for the sport, but you just don’t replace guys like that. With that said, we are going to miss Jimmie for sure out on the racetrack.”


You had some mistakes on pit road last year, so going into this year has there been any changes into your pit crew?

“We definitely had a tough year as far as that went last year. We had a really good group of guys and they really came together late in the season and had an outstanding Playoffs. Unfortunately, the one mistake they made was in the biggest time. It was when we needed to win that race to go to the Final Four. That was unfortunate. They did a good job, really all year. We do have one change. One guy left for a different organization, and we had to make that change. James (Small) feels really confident in what they’ve been able to do in practice. We will see what happens when we get to the racetrack.”

What kind of music are you listening to these days? Is there a song that gets you pumped up before you get in the car?

“I mostly listen to country. I’m a big country music fan, and I’ll be honest with you, I don’t really listen to music before I get into the car. I guess nothing really plays into that.”

What has your communication been with NASCAR on the steering with the Next Gen car?

“Actually, I don’t have any info from the latest test that they did. I haven’t talked to Kurt (Busch) or NASCAR or anyone about it for that matter. I will have a test in that car later this season again. I think I may be going back to the ROVAL again in the fall. Hopefully, by then it’s straightened out. The biggest thing on the road course it was pretty good. We made it a fairly normal feeling. Where we had our biggest issues was when we ran on the oval. I would be interested to hear what changes they made and how it changed things. As far as talking about it or worrying about it, not a really constructive use of time right now when I really can’t do anything about it.”

What do you think the Next Gen car should be?

“I think the biggest thing that we all want is to be able to make a difference as a driver. Being able to maneuver in traffic specifically behind cars is something that needs to be looked at and addressed. I know it’s something that NASCAR is aware of and wants to happen. We will just have to see. We’ve only ran on track with two cars together so far, and a lot of things are going to change between now and when the teams start building the cars, and we start testing them and figuring out ways to get around the setup. There is so much different about it with the independent rear suspension and the way the rear differential is, the suspension, the shocks, the springs, you name it. It’s a whole different ballgame. It’s really hard to make specific determinations right now on how things are and how they need to be, but overall picture in my eyes, we need something that you can get up behind a guy and at a mile-and-a-half track get near his bumper in the corners. That’s something that needs to happen, and we haven’t been able to do that really in the past few seasons. Hopefully, we can get back to that somehow.”

What do you think you do well at road courses, and do you think it translates to these new stadium road courses?

“I think a general road course set of skills will translate to other road courses. They all have a little bit of unique tendencies when it comes to grip and asphalt, elevation changes, the way the curbs are, things like that, that can play into your strengths or weaknesses. For me, it’s understanding what it takes to make speed on a road course. It’s understanding what it takes to make a heavy stock car, without a lot of grip and a lot of horsepower, how to make the most time on those road courses. Then, it’s really about being able to hold the car on the limit and not make mistakes because you talk about road course having 10, 12, 14 corners, one little mistake – overdrive one corner – you screw up your whole lap. A lot of it is really about discipline and understanding where the limit is and not making mistakes.”

Do you feel that you are particularly suited for COTA or Road America?

“It’s really hard to say. I don’t know much about those tracks yet, so there’s going to be a lot of work going into to get prepared for those. Learning new road courses, it’s something that takes a little time. We will see how those go. I would say in general I don’t know that either one benefits me. I feel like I’m just as good at Watkins Glen as I am at Sonoma, and they are completely different. It’s hard to say, but I look forward to the challenge, and I cannot wait to get to both of them.”

What are your thoughts on returning to Sonoma with just a one-day show?

“I’ve been waiting for a while to go there and try to get the three-peat. I’m ready to go whenever. No practice, no qualifying – it’s all good. Just hopefully, we will get a decent starting spot. Hopefully, we can make it back there. It’s such a fun track, such a great part of the country. It’s beautiful and always great weather. We look forward to it every year.”

How much does last season’s difficulties fuel you up for this season?

“We are always fired up and we are working hard to be better at things. Last year did not go the way that we wanted. We had a lot of close calls and had some races we probably should have won, and things didn’t go the way we needed to, or we screwed them up. That always makes you angry and makes you want to go back and redo it or retry it. I think we are better prepared this year for sure as a unit. The way we are doing things with limited practice or no practice, which was a big change last year. We will see what we can do. I know the guys are working hard on trying to find more speed in our cars and that’s always something that has been a part of this sport and part of being really, really successful or just having minimum success. We have to get our cars better. We have to make better decisions. I have to drive better, make less mistakes, and that’s really what it boils down too. We are looking forward to that challenge.”

Which one of the new tracks are you looking forward to the most?

“All of them really, but I guess I’m really, really curious to see what Bristol is going to be like with dirt. I’m not a dirt guy. I’ve only raced twice on dirt and they were charity races, so they were nothing to write home about as far as competition and things. Bristol has been a tough track for me and for us over the years to try to figure out. I don’t know that it could be any more difficult adding dirt, so I look forward to that one just to see what it’s going to be like more than anything.”

It was announced that you are going to run a Xfinity race this season. How did that come together?

“It just came together. Since 2010, MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) had a Xfinity program, I hadn’t had a lot of opportunities because the teams that I was with didn’t have Xfinity programs, and now the last two years, being at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) they have one. There was never really an opportunity or an opening. This year, they had an opening. They had some races that were open, and they had one of our sponsors that wanted more races on the 19 car, but we were sold out. So, we said, hey, why don’t we run a Xfinity Series race, so we are going to do that. I’m excited about it. It should be fun. I know those cars are a lot different than ours these days. I have no idea what it’s going to be like, but it should be a good time and I enjoy racing in Atlanta, so I picked that one. It should be a lot of fun.”

What is it going to be like watching your brother (Ryan Truex) run full-time this season?

“It’s gotten better over the years. When he’s in something full-time, it seems to be not as stressful to watch because I understand in years past, when he’s got a limited schedule – he’s only got a handful of races – and understanding that he really needs to have good showings to make something of it. That’s been tough, but excited for him to get a full-time ride. Hopefully, he’s got a good group of guys around him that they can go to work and figure out how to find some speed, how to find some success. I look forward to watching for sure.”

Have you thought about running some grassroots racing? How important is it for NASCAR drivers to race at the grassroots level?

“I have thought a lot about doing other racing and actually was planning on this past season, going back to my home track, Wall Stadium, and racing in the Turkey Derby in a modified. It got cancelled a few weeks before the event as I was talking to a buddy about running a car. It’s definitely important. I think it was a common occurrence back in the day. Guys were going to local tracks and running things like that, running different kinds of races. For me, I just haven’t had a lot of opportunities to do that over the years. With our schedules the way it has been, it’s been crazy. Now things have settled down as far as schedules go, we’ve had more time to do other things. The hard thing is there are less tracks, there are less cars, there are less opportunities when you really look at the big picture. Having Cup drivers go to those tracks, I think is huge. It’s a great thing. It’s something that I wish I had done more of. Definitely look forward to trying to find some of those things in the future for sure.”

What do you feel like you need to improve on this season versus last year?

“I think looking at last season there is a lot of areas where we are trying to do better, whether that be better prepared or make better decisions. Our sport, it’s ever-changing with the rules and the tracks now this year, tires, all of those things. You just have to be prepared to make big decisions and just try to figure out little things to do better there, so we really look at everything, to answer your question, every single piece of our program. That goes back to what I mentioned earlier – trying to find more speed in our cars, that’s always number one. Everybody’s trying to do that. If you make your cars better, everything is a little bit easier. Really, top-to-bottom, we look at it all. Everyone has their things that they are working on. I’ve got a list of things I’ve been working on. I brought in a change in spotter this year to try to be better at speedways, which is now – you look at the 550 package, basically speedway racing on restarts for a few laps. Things like that, we’ve been working on to get better at. It’s everything. It takes all of that to win these races. They are very difficult to win. We look at every avenue.”

What has been the secret to success at the road courses?

“Really no secrets, just having a good understanding of the tracks we’ve been at, years of experience, really working on fine tuning things with the same group of guys over that stretch of time. New road courses last year with the Daytona Road Course went well for us. The ROVAL has been a little bit up-or-down, but we seem to run pretty well there also. I look forward to getting back to Sonoma and Watkins Glen. Last year missing both of those was a bummer. Those are two tracks that I always look forward to going to. Then learning Road America and COTA is going to be a big challenge and it’s going to take a lot of extra work to get prepared for that. They both look like really unique, fun tracks and I always look forward to a road course.”

What do you see in Chase Elliott that makes him lights out at the road courses?

“He does a good job. He understands the tracks. He does a good job at making a lot of speed and not making a lot of mistakes. Really, that is what it boils down too. On road courses, you have to push really hard, but you have to do it with discipline. You have to understand your marks and be able to continuously hit them. If you look back at the last two Watkins Glen races, we finished second to him in both of those, and arguably had the fastest car, but couldn’t make the pass for the win both times. We kind of got passed on strategy, but if you look at what he was able to do – having pressure on the last 10 or 15 laps of the race and not making that mistake, that’s what it takes, lap after lap. They’ve really got a hold on the ROVAL track, where it seems like they are a lot faster than everybody else. They’ve got it going on with their setups. They’ve got their cars figured out to drive the way he likes them, and he does an incredible job of driving them. I’m excited to compete with him again this year on road courses and I know that we will both probably be near the front at some point in time and I look forward to racing with him.”

Do you look at anything that Chase Elliott is doing at the road courses?

“You are always looking. These days with SMT and all of the data we get, you can see exactly how they are they are doing it or what they are doing on the track. You can’t really see how they make it happen, but you can definitely learn from watching it. Anytime you are getting beat you are looking to see what someone is doing. It doesn’t matter if they’ve won 100 races or one race. If you are getting beat these days, you are looking how they did it and how they beat you.”

How are the Playoffs a good method for deciding the champion?

“This is a difficult sport. It’s hard to win a single race, let alone, one out of three in each round. I think we know what we are getting involved with. We know the schedule. We understand ahead of time what it is. It is what it is. We’re not here to make the decision on if it is good or bad. We are here to figure out how to win it all. Certainly, it’s difficult when you have a great season and you win a ton of races and you make the Final Four and don’t win the championship, or if you don’t make the Final Four, it’s difficult to have a great season and not get it done. At the end of the day, this is the challenge we are faced with and you’ve got to make the best of it. At the end of the day, the best team wins, no matter how they get there.”

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