Martin Truex Jr. won't say Kansas Speedway owes him a victory, but if he did win few would object. Routinely he finds himself in contention and often dominates at the 1.5-mile oval located in Kansas City, Kan., 12 miles from downtown Kansas City, Mo., and yet remains winless in 16 starts entering Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400 (NBC, 2:30 p.m. ET).
He led 173 laps in April 2012. He finished second.
He led 95 laps in May 2015. He finished ninth.
He led 172 laps in May 2016. He finished 14th.
Among the close calls, the most recent loss stung Truex considerably. During a late green-flag pit stop, a broken bolt off the brake prevented the right-front wheel from being securely tightened requiring a second pit stop. Had the fluky parts failure not occurred, Truex would've likely cruised to victory.
Overall, Truex ranks third in laps, trailing only Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, each of whom own multiple victories and have more starts at the 1.5-mile track than Truex, whose best finish is second (twice).
"I definitely get a positive vibe coming here," Truex said. "A positive feeling that we've been so close, we've done just about everything here but win.
"I feel like it's time for us to make that happen. I don't think there's ever been a time where I've come here more confident. I'm looking forward to seeing how the weekend goes and seeing if we can finally close the deal here. I feel like we can do it and just ready to go out there and give it a shot."
A win carries added importance, and not just because it would come in Truex's 400th career start. If the Furniture Row Racing driver can finally break through, he could clinch a spot in the semifinal round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Significant because it would effectively make next week's quarterfinal elimination race at Talladega Superspeedway moot, a race where mayhem is the norm and defined by its volatility.
Just as it is to the other 11 Chase drivers, Truex is enticed by the possibility of going into Talladega without a concern for where he finishes. Win Kansas and it's a sizable weight off one's shoulders.
"We really would like to come out of here with a win," Truex said. "I think everybody would. ... We're in decent shape, but Talladega you just never know."
Truex began the Kansas weekend by qualifying fourth Friday, just behind Joe Gibbs Racing's Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards, who are de facto teammates of Truex with FRR and JGR in Toyota-backed technical alliance. (Denny Hamlin qualified JGR's fourth car in the seventh position.)
As is frequently the case throughout the season, the Toyota drivers are viewed as the favorites to win on Sunday. The quintet have combined to win 15 of 30 races (Busch 4, Truex 4, Hamlin 3, Edwards 2 and Kenseth 2), lead 55 percent of all laps and are each vying for one of eight spots in the Chase's third round.
That alliance between FRR and JGR began when FRR switched to Toyota during the offseason, and it's a large reason why Truex is enjoying a career year. Entering 2016, he had won just three times -- a figure he's already exceeded by one with six events remaining. And since the Chase started, Truex's won two of four playoff races and emerged as the prohibitive championship contender.
Another step to fulfil those lofty expectations can be taken with a round-advancing victory on Sunday.
"Feel great about coming here to Kansas and what we've been able to do here in the past," Truex said. "Hopefully with the position we're in now, we can take advantage of all the things that we've been doing well and finally close the deal here at Kansas."
HOLLYWOOD CASINO 400 LINEUP
|4||Martin Truex, Jr.||Toyota||190.786|
|18||Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.||Ford||189.387|