With two victories and a nearly a third in the opening round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Martin Truex Jr. should be well positioned for a championship run.
Not quite. NASCAR's playoffs call for a total points reset every three races when a new round begins, so Truex instead finds himself level with the other 11 as the Chase's quarterfinal round commences Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
"It would be nice to be in this position and have those two wins kind of mean something, but at the same time you understand going in that's the way it works," Truex said Thursday. "We're here, we know everybody is at zero and we've got to perform, so I think we're prepared."
Truex's Round 1 Chase performance consisted of winning the playoff opener at Chicagoland Speedway, followed by leading a race-high 141 laps en route to a seventh-place finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, then closing out the bracket with a dominating triumph at Dover International Speedway.
So impressive has Truex and Furniture Row Racing been, even his de facto teammates are wondering how they can keep pace. Carl Edwards, whose Joe Gibbs Racing team is closely aligned with FRR, joked Truex's crew chief Cole Pearn is withholding some secrets.
"We've got great cars, great engines, really good teamwork," Edwards. "If we could get Cole (Pearn, crew chief for Martin Truex Jr.) to tell us everything, that would help."
Truex's success does provide confidence within the rest of the Toyota camp, Edwards acknowledged. Because he, along with JGR's Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Matt Kenseth, all have the same equipment as Truex, a strong belief exists that they can replicate what Truex has done and advance all five drivers to the semifinal round.
"Those guys are so good that it gives us a lot of optimism," Edwards said. "We really feel like we can step it up a little bit and run really well."
But while Edwards and company are hopeful, Truex is well positioned to continue dominating. Earlier this year, he led a NASCAR-record 588 of 600 miles to win at Charlotte, and he led 172 laps at Kansas Speedway, which hosts the second of the three-race second round.
Adding to Truex's cloak of superiority, he'll be driving the same car Saturday he dove to victory at Charlotte and Chicagoland. Truex, though, said this car is no different than any other car in FRR's fleet and they all drive the same to him. Nonetheless, Busch said he and crew chief Adam Stevens will be reviewing Truex and Pearn's notes from the May Charlotte race to use as a template for the weekend.
As for Truex and his newfound status as the championship favorite, he downplays such talk. He's fully cognizant of how quickly one's fortunes can change in a fickle playoff format where one bad race can result in elimination.
"At the end of the day, we need to perform now and we need to perform this weekend," Truex said. "... Our mindset is really the same as it's been -- just coming out here and perform like we know we can and hopefully we'll be able to do that."