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Martin Truex Jr. Interview: I'm Pretty Hard On Myself

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Our series of weekly driver interviews continues this week with Martin Truex Jr. of Michael Waltrip Racing. Truex spoke with us at the site of his lone Sprint Cup Series win to date – Dover International Speedway.

SBN: Who is the most underrated driver in NASCAR?

MTJ: I am.

SBN: You are? Why do you say that?

MTJ: 'Cause I run a lot better than my results show.

SBN: So you don't get the press because of it?

MTJ: I don't really care about the amount of press. It's more like what my peers think and people around the sport. It's not so much the press.

It just seems like my career has always been, 'Run really well and finish like shit.' (smiles) So it kinda sucks. We're working on the finishes part.

SBN: Speaking of that, what's a race that sticks out to you where you feel like you should have won but you didn't?

MTJ: There's been a bunch, but probably the most recent one was that was probably the worst was Richmond. We definitely had a shot to win that thing.

SBN: So do you always consider the most recent almost-win the hardest to swallow?

MTJ: I think so, yeah. Because right now is what matters most, you know what I mean? I've had a bunch of those, but what happened two years ago don't mean a damn thing. What happened two weeks ago does.

SBN: If you could make your own four-car team, which drivers would you want to team up with aside from your current teammates?

MTJ: OK. Johnson, because he's nasty; Junior, because he's my buddy; and Harvick, because of both (laughs).

SBN: When you were growing up, what driver did you want to be like?

MTJ: I had a lot of favorite drivers growing up, and as is the case for most kids, it was because they're winning a lot of races or running up front or you like their car, you know? Earnhardt was my favorite.

There was a time that I really liked Darrell Waltrip – I'm not sure why, because he's not very friendly to me.

I always really liked Harry Gant. I just thought he was the coolest dude. He was just laid-back and mellow, and he could just wheel the hell out of it. So he was one of my favorites back in the day.

But I never really picked one out and said, 'I want to be like him.' The 'be like him' part went more with my father – I always wanted to be like my dad. And he raced, so that part would go toward him.

SBN: DW will probably read this and start calling you 'buddy' now that you said that.

MTJ: (laughs) Ha! Yeah, we'll see about that.

SBN: What's a memorable post-race escape you've made from the track after a race?

MTJ: I've never really had any eventful trips to the airport, other than some crazy car rides with some of my team members. Probably the scariest one was driving with this guy called 'Opie,' who works for (Toyota Racing Development) now but worked for DEI when I drove there.

Somehow, I ended up in his van going to the airport from Pocono. It's pretty far, and he's pretty wild behind the wheel. He's definitely not scared of cops. Or tickets. Or dying.

SBN: Who is somebody famous you'd like to meet who you haven't met yet?

MTJ: I don't often get starstruck, so I'm not really one to pick out celebrities to meet. Do they have to be alive?

SBN: You can pick someone who isn't alive, go for it.

MTJ: I'd like to have met my grandfather on my dad's side. He died when my dad was like 16, so I never got to meet him. That'd be cool to meet him, because I've heard stories about like what a hard-ass he was, kind of like he didn't take any crap. He really worked hard, always working.

SBN: Is that what your dad is like, too?

MTJ: Oh yeah. Yeah. (laughs)

SBN: Would you rather win a couple huge races and miss the Chase – like Jamie McMurray did last year – or make the Chase and contend for the title but not win any races?

MTJ: I'd rather have the wins. Yeah. Just because that's what we're here for every week – to win races. Everybody has bad luck and things happen – it's very hard to be consistent in this sport because there are so many variables. It takes so many things to be consistent – including luck. Some people just have bad luck sometimes, that's just the way it is.

I'd go for the season McMurray had, especially the way he did it with all the big races he won. You know what I mean? At the end of your career, you're going to look back at the trophies on your mantle and say, "I won that race." You're not going to say, "I made the Chase but didn't win."

SBN: Where does your motivation to win come from?

MTJ: So many people put so much effort into this. But at the end of the day, we're all kind of selfish in that we're all competitors. We all want to win, no matter what the competition is. My desire to win now is no different than the first time I raced a go-kart.

As hard as this sport is, if you didn't have the desire to win, it wouldn't be worth putting up with all the hassle – the stress, the gray hair, the meetings, all the hard work and constantly trying to beat yourself up to get better. All those things are very difficult to go through, and you wouldn't do it if you didn't want to win.

SBN: How different is your personality inside the car and standing here talking to me?

MTJ: I don't think it's that different, except I tend to get mad inside the car. I tend to yell a little more than I do in normal life. I'm normally pretty laid-back; in the car, I get pretty pissed. But again, that's just the competitor in you. You know? It's the desire to win.

I'm as mad when I screw up as when somebody else does. You've got to be pretty hard on yourself in there.

SBN: If you could switch lives with someone from another sport, who would you like to be?

MTJ: My second passion growing up was baseball. I always loved baseball, and I loved to pitch. Pitching was sort of like racing – you're in the zone when you're out there, and you almost can't even tell the people are there a lot of the time. Like here – all the fans in the stands, you don't even see 'em. As a pitcher, having to block that out is the same thing.

If I couldn't have been a race car driver, that's something I would have wanted to do. Unfortunately, I was only good until I was about 15, and then everyone started growing and getting bigger – and I didn't. So that was kind of the end of my road. But I was a badass in Little League! (laughs)

SBN: So you really don't see the people in the stands while you're racing?

MTJ: No. You don't even know the grandstands are here when the race starts. I mean, under caution you do. And when they're hanging on the fence and yelling at your car and throwing stuff on the track, you do. But when you're going, all you see is what's between those walls.

SBN: If you could take a year away from racing and come back – knowing you had a job guaranteed – would you want to do it?

MTJ: Right now, I wouldn't mind doing it. But in two weeks, I'd be like, 'God, I'm bored.' You know what I mean? It's like if you ask me on a Monday, I'd be like, 'Hell yeah, let's do it now!' And if you asked me on a Thursday or Friday, I'd be like, 'I gotta go to the track.'

SBN: It sounds like you could just use a week off, not a year off.

MTJ: If we just raced three weekends a month, we could race all year long and I'd be perfectly happy.

SBN: Someday when you hang up your helmet for the last time, what do you want people to remember about you? What do you want your retirement story to say about you?

MTJ: I guess that I was a good competitor, I was a good driver and I didn't leave anything on the table. I think at the end of the day, as long as I'm happy with what I've done, that's the biggest thing. But just to have the respect of your peers and your competitors is important.

SBN: Let's say you're going to win the championship. Would you rather have it clinched before Homestead or win it on Turn 4 of the last lap of the season?

MTJ: I've done both – in Nationwide, of course. The second one seemed more exciting to me, but it was a lot more stressful. So it probably took twice the amount of years off my life as the first one did. (laughs) But for a Cup championship, I don't think it would matter. I'd probably rather just lock the thing up and not have to worry about it.