Martin Truex Jr. relaxed, confident heading into season finale at Phoenix

PHOENIX — It took 31 tries for Martin Truex Jr. to win at Phoenix Raceway, and that 31st car Truex dubbed the best he has ever unloaded in the desert.

If his No. 19 Toyota is as good Sunday when the series returns to the 1-mile track in Arizona — this time with the 2021 championship on the line — Truex, who is title eligible, is confident he’ll be tough to beat yet again. Can neither confirm nor deny whether it’ll be the same car, though.

“I don’t think so, but I don’t know,” Truex said Thursday during Media Day at the Phoenix Convention Center. “I didn’t ask. I don’t ask about cars anymore because they’re always the same. They always bring their best ones and that’s the best one, it’s guaranteed.”

PHOENIX: Betting odds | Weekend schedule | Paint schemes

If not, practice (Friday) and qualifying (Saturday) are on tap before Sunday’s main event (3 p.m. ET on NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). That’ll give Truex’s Joe Gibbs Racing crew the opportunity to work out any kinks. The catch: Teammate Denny Hamlin and Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson — Truex’s Championship 4 competition — will also have the same luxury, along with the rest of the 39-car field.

Even if Truex does end up with the best car, that doesn’t guarantee anything. His runner-up finishes in the 2018-19 season finales and therefore final standings are proof of that, in his mind.

“I felt like both years hurt equally bad because we had the best car and we were in position, we led most of the race in both of them, and it just didn’t play out the way we needed it to,” Truex said. “So they both stung a lot.”

The championship race was held at Homestead-Miami Speedway at the time. Truex did lead laps in both — 20 in 2018 and 103 in 2019, both out of 267. He lost the front spot with 12 laps remaining in 2018 and with 53 left in 2019.

Those shortcomings were sandwiched between a high and low of Truex’s racing portfolio. In 2017, Truex won his first and only (so far) championship. Then, in 2020, he failed to make the Championship 4. That miss ended three-year slew of title shots.

“I’m sure that was probably the most different-feeling one than ever,” Truex said. “It feels kind of like we’re getting back to normal. It’s good to be here with everybody and talking about it.

“I don’t know. I feel really confident. I’ve felt confident in the other ones, but I don’t know, this one I feel a little bit better and a little bit more relaxed.”

Truex has won four races this year — tied for the second-best mark in the overall series and in his individual career. The first was at Phoenix, leading 64 circuits and winning by 1.696 seconds. He was then victorious at Martinsville Speedway, Darlington Raceway and Richmond Raceway (playoffs).

Despite all that, BetMGM lists Truex at 9-2 odds — the lowest out of the Championship 4.

“Well, I won here in the spring and I won the championship before,” Truex said. “There are two things in my favor.”