Martin Truex Jr. heads to Dover International Speedway feeling both comfortable and optimistic. The New Jersey native considers Dover as close to a “home track” as he has. And it has long been a sentimental favorite as well, considering it’s where Truex scored his first career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win in June of 2007. He added another trophy is 2016 and shows up this weekend already with a victory on the season – scoring his first career short track win at Richmond Raceway three weeks ago.
Since a disappointing 35th-place showing in the season-opening Daytona 500, Truex has steadily made his way up the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings. The new Joe Gibbs Racing team driver has a pair of runner-up showings (at Atlanta and Phoenix) in the No. 19 Toyota Camry and is currently sixth in the championship rankings, only nine points behind fifth place Brad Keselowski.
Truex has five top-10s and four top-fives in the last six Dover races, leading 387 laps in that time. He hasn’t started farther back than the fourth row in the last eight races. He’s won at the track in the Xfinity Series too – scoring two of his 13 career wins there (in 2004 and 2005).
He said he expects Sunday’s race to be more unpredictable than past versions.
“Dover is going to be a tough race, I think,’’ Truex said. “The speeds are going to be really high. I’m sure it will be the fastest we’ve ever been around Dover and 400 laps there is tough no matter what. I think it’s going to be pretty crazy.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to do some passing and hopefully the dirty air deal is not terrible. I think track position will be important, but the speeds are going to be tough. It’s going to be demanding. Bristol was pretty crazy. I thought it was just because of how hard you had to drive the car every lap. As fast as Dover is, I think feel wise, it’s probably the fastest place we go. So, it’s going to be an eye opener for some guys.”
That’s not necessarily good news for another former Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. The seven-time Series champion returns to the site of his most recent victory – Dover International Speedway, where he is the sport’s all-time winningest driver with 11 victories. It’s that last one, in the spring of 2017, that is most noteworthy as the series returns to the tough one-mile concrete track this week. That was his last series win and marks the first time in his illustrious 83-victory, Hall of Fame-bound career that he has gone an entire season (2018) without a trophy.
Technically, the 43-year old Californian hoisted one already this year as winner of the exhibition “The Clash” race at Daytona International Speedway to kick off Daytona Speedweeks. But Johnson is eager to return to his historic winning ways and with his history at Dover, this week may present an ideal opportunity.
Johnson leads the competition with 24 top-10 and 17 top-five finishes in 34 starts at Dover. He has 11 wins, including this very first two visits to the track in 2002. He swept the 2009 season as well and won back-to-back in 2013-14 too – the only driver in the field to win back-to-back races at Dover. He boasts the series-best driver rating (114.4) heading into the weekend and the top average running position (8.835) among those with more than six starts at the track.
The driver of the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 has a pair of top 10s in the three races since his win, including a ninth place in this race last year a third place in the 2017 Fall race.
He’s led a series best 3,105 laps total at Dover but is looking to lead his first since the 2017 season.
Johnson is coming off a tough Talladega Superspeedway race, finishing 33rd, which dropped him from 13th to 16th in the series championship driver standings.