LOUDON, N.H. — Martin Truex Jr. has left so many competitors in his wake in a stellar 2017 season that his peers, such as Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing, have begun theorizing why Truex suddenly appears infallible. Though Truex races for the smaller Furniture Row Racing, which is in the second year of a technical alliance with Gibbs’s enterprise, the driver of the No. 78 Toyota has consistently been a step ahead.
“I don’t have a theory,” Busch offered when asked why Truex’s car has been faster. “I’ve had probably 10 theories since [FRR] has joined us and none of them are true, so I’m done with theories.
“It’s the biggest question of the universe right now, which is why the 78 is outperforming the house cars. We’re just as confused and disgruntled by it as probably others.”
Truex is enjoying the splendors of his success as he prepares for Overton’s 301 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday.
Last Saturday at Kentucky Speedway, Truex captured his third NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season, leading 152 of 274 laps and winning both stages before taking the checkered flag. Wednesday, he gained a healthy 34-point lead in the Cup standings after Kyle Larson was penalized 35 points for a rear brake cooling assembly that didn’t meet NASCAR’s standards.
“Typically the green doesn’t stay out for that long at that type of racetrack,” Truex said of his domination in Kentucky. “Our car definitely was extremely fast last weekend. I felt good going into the race that we had what we needed to contend for the win and just for some reason when it got dark it was completely perfect.”
Truex has always enjoyed the northern hospitalities of NHMS. The venerable driver notched an eighth-place finish in September 2015 at the New Hampshire 300, then one-upped himself a year later, finishing seventh.
If there was a time to put the puzzle pieces together and earn a trip to New Hampshire’s Victory Lane, this would be it.
“I’ve been thinking all week about what [winning this race] would feel like,” Truex said. “We’ve had a lot of different things happen over the years here at New Hampshire. It’s just been tough to put it all together to get the finishes, but we’ve run well and [we’re] definitely looking forward to taking advantage of that this weekend.”
Almirola is back
Aric Almirola will return to NASCAR Cup Series competition Sunday after missing eight weeks with a compound fracture of his T5 vertebra. Almirola was injured at Kansas Speedway on May 13 in a multi-car crash. The back wheels of Almirola’s No. 43 Ford went airborne after battering into Joey Logano’s No. 22 Ford and Danica Patrick’s No. 10 Ford.
Driving for Richard Petty Motorsports, Almirola had enjoyed success early in 2017, notching two top-five finishes in 11 starts. Now, after weeks of strenuous rehab, he’ll attempt to reclaim that momentum with a newfound appreciation for his job, and his health.
“It felt really nice to be able to walk through the garage and see all of my peers and see the guys in the garage area,” Almirola said. “To have so many people that walked by and were like, ‘Hey, welcome back, [we’re] glad to have you back,’ it certainly makes me feel good.”
Following the accident, Almirola’s doctors told him an 8-to-12 week recovery period was his best-case scenario. But with clear MRI and CT scans and no reported discomfort, Almirola was cleared for action after missing just seven races.
The 1.058-mile oval at NHMS fits Almirola’s eye as a good track on which to make his return.
“This is a great racetrack for me to come back and knock the cobwebs off and not really put my spine through a lot of loading for a long period of time,” he said. “I feel great. I ran a lot of laps at Charlotte. We were there for four hours and I was in the car a large majority of the time and I felt great inside the car so I don’t really foresee any issues.”
VHT put on track
The racing surface at NHMS was treated with stripes of VHT — a traction agent also referred to as PJ1 — in advance of Sunday’s Cup festivities. The decision to use the chemical was made by the NASCAR Cup Drivers Council.
“I think the toughest thing is that VHT is a chemical,” said Ryan Newman. “So, it reacts with heat. It reacts with our tires. There are different aspects of it instead of just the typical asphalt racetrack. There’s a lot of hesitancy, I think, to just going out and going bonzai fast.”Owen Pence can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.