Martin Truex Jr. doesn’t usually end practice early, but he really liked the way his car was handling Saturday.
“We’ve got a badass car,” he told his crew on the radio before leaving the track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway eight to 10 minutes early.
He’s had that kind of car to begin this season, registering top-10 finishes in the first two races. Truex qualified eighth for the Kobalt 400, which begins at 12:30 p.m. today and will be televised on Fox (5), saying he believes he has one of the top contenders for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event.
“It’s had really good speed all weekend,” Truex said. “It’s driving good, and it seems like we’re probably a top-three car right now. Hopefully, we can make the right decisions going into (today) and be the best car coming out and try to win this thing.”
Everything has come together for Truex and the Denver-based Furniture Row Racing No. 78 Chevrolet team. The 34-year-old finished eighth in the Daytona 500 and sixth a week later just outside Atlanta.
His fifth-place position in the standings is the highest ever for any driver in the 10-year-old team. Las Vegan Kurt Busch once was sixth.
Not bad just a season after finishing 24th in the standings, his worst since Truex began racing a full schedule in 2006.
Those struggles make going to work each day a little tougher. The big start this season has the opposite effect.
“It’s been a lot more fun at the racetrack, I can tell you that,” Truex said. “I’m just proud of the effort everybody put in. Everybody works hard, but I’m proud of the guys being able to put it all together and make the right decisions.”
The early success hasn’t surprised Truex, who said he believed entering the season he had a competitive car.
“At the end of the day, you never know exactly what you’re going to have,” he said. “But I felt really good. We had a good end to the season last year. We really started putting things together that were making sense for us. We were able to carry that into the offseason and implement a lot of stuff.”
Truex put together back-to-back top-10 finishes late last season, coming in seventh Sept. 28 at Dover, Del., and fourth a week later at Kansas. He placed in the top 15 in six of his final 10 races.
The team also made some key offseason changes, adding engineers and moving Cole Pearn, 32, to crew chief. He had been the lead engineer since 2011.
“We’ve got real similar personalities,” Truex said. “We came up through racing the same way. We have a lot of respect for each other and a lot of confidence in each other, so it’s been fun to work with him. He’s got a lot of new ideas. He’s a really, really sharp guy, and he’s just getting started in this thing. He’s probably one of those guys we’re going to hear about for a long, long time in the garage.”
Truex also has been able to focus on the track because he is more at peace off it.
His girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, was diagnosed in June with stage-3 ovarian cancer. She then spent six months undergoing several rounds of chemotherapy.
The treatment was effective, and for cautionary reasons, she is doing a monthly maintenance program that will last a year.
“She’s clear, free of cancer,” Truex said. “No side effects at all. Everything’s going great for her.”
Pollex didn’t make the trip to Las Vegas, staying home in Charlotte, N.C., to lead a fundraiser to fight ovarian cancer.
“It’s easier to focus on the car when you’re not thinking about what’s going on with her,” Truex said. “And, honestly, I just feel like I’ve got a new lease on life. I just feel like everything’s going really well with the racing, with everything at home. It’s a good time for me. I’m having fun and enjoying myself, and understand you never know how long these things are going to last. You’ve got to enjoy them and take advantage of them, and I plan on doing that.”
Contact Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.