Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of four stories examining why each driver could win the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship.
Martin Truex Jr. will win the 2021 championship because …
He’s as steady as they come, and a certain trend suggests he’s being slept on.
Of the Championship 4 drivers, Truex was given the worst odds to win the title (9-2). The No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing driver, however, has the second-most 2021 wins (four) behind Kyle Larson’s nine, one of which came at Phoenix in the series’ first trip out west earlier this spring.
Why that’s particularly interesting is that all four of his wins (Phoenix, Martinsville, Darlington, Richmond) came with the higher horsepower (750) package that we’ll see this weekend. Larson won everywhere this year, so he has plenty of similar victories on his 2021 resume, but the four that Truex has is more than the three combined between Chase Elliott (Circuit of The Americas, Road America) and Denny Hamlin (Southern 500). Truex, in fact, had his third by the 12th race of the season.
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The No. 19 group was an interesting one to follow this year, seeing periods of near-dominance (three wins in the eight-race stretch from Phoenix to Darlington) followed by mediocrity (21.0 average finish in the six races that followed). For all we know, the yo-yoing through the regular season might not necessarily have been unintentional.
What’s unique about the format of the NASCAR Playoffs is it gives teams the ability to strategically plan ahead and gamble a little. After compiling three 750-horsepower wins in the first third of the season, it’s conceivable the team – knowing that the final two races of the season use that package – used the remainder of the regular season to compile notes, tinker, and fine-tune some things while trying to make gains on the 550-horsepower package. Truex and Co. clearly had a championship-caliber notebook on the 750-horsepower package, all they had to do was make it to Phoenix.
And here they are.
It’s all theory, of course, but for what it’s worth 608 of Truex’s 793 laps led came in the first 12 races, when he compiled a 9.92 average finish. In the 23 races since then, Truex has just 11 top 10s, with an average finish of 13.5 – numbers that don’t exactly scream Championship 4-worthy.
And yet, on Sunday Truex will be one of four drivers racing for a championship. At the track he’s the most recent winner at. Using the package that his team has dominated with this year.
It sure doesn’t feel like an accident that Truex is in the Championship 4, or that he fell backwards into it at all. And we shouldn’t be surprised if the No. 19 comes out and dominates this weekend for the first time since May.
Perhaps that was the plan all along.
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