Truex gets on a roll after his switch to Toyota

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Martin Truex Jr. was a legitimate contender for the Sprint Cup title a year ago when the series made its first stop at Michigan International Speedway.

He was sitting third in points with 13 top-10 finishes in 14 races — the fourth driver in history to accomplish the feat.

And when the dust cleared, Truex finished third in both MIS races and fourth in the championship.

A year later — his first driving a Toyota — Truex is again on a roll entering the first weekend at MIS, having led a series-high 809 laps.

He opened the season with a second-place finish in the Daytona 500, losing the closest finish in the history of the race by 0.010 seconds to Denny Hamlin.

Truex, though, dominated the Coca-Cola 600 Memorial Day weekend, leading 392 of 400 laps. He is one of nine drivers to win at least one race to automatically earn a spot in the Chase.

“For us, it all came together,” Truex said of the Coca-Cola 600 victory. “We’ve had a great season. We led a ton of laps and been extremely competitive, felt we had four or five races where we had a shot to go to Victory Lane and things just didn’t go the way we needed them to.

“To go out in the 600 and lead that many laps and dominate the way we did was just incredible. It’s something that’s so hard to do. ... To set records in that race is something that’s really cool for all of us and we’re proud of that performance.”

Next up is Sunday’s Firekeepers Casino 400.

And while the Brooklyn track is one where he has enjoyed his share of success, Truex and the rest of the Sprint Cup field ventures to the track bringing NASCAR’s new aerodynamic rules to further reduce downforce and sideforce. The car’s spoiler will be shortened an inch from 31/2 to 2.5 inches, and the splitter will be reduced to two inches.

“It’s going to be a big difference, a learning curve for everyone,” Truex said. “I think the lower downforce package we have this year has been a big improvement and I think everybody’s been really pleased with the racing.

“The car has been harder to drive, but it’s been easier to pass ... the cars have been better in traffic, which is good.”

Something else that has been good for Truex this season is moving into a Toyota.

Of his 17 starts this season, Truex has finished in the top 20 in 16 — top 15 in 14. His worst finished was 32nd in the Auto Club 400 in March when he led 21 laps, third most in the race.

“I think when we first made the switch in the winter, everybody thought it would take a little time to get rolling and get back to where we were last year as far as how competitive we were,” Truex said. “Coming out of the box strong at Daytona (it felt) like we never stumbled at all. It felt like we kind of picked up where we left off last year, and that says a lot about everybody involved, our side, all of guys, our team working smart and doing the right things.”

And getting a victory to put him in the Chase early helps, too.

“I think first and foremost it just takes a lot of the pressure off,” said Truex, who looks forward to coming to Michigan to drive — and fish in Traverse City. “You don’t have to worry about points anymore, you can go out and race.”

david.goricki@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/DavidGoricki

MIS weekend

Firekeepers Casino 400

1 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: (800) 354-1010 or mispeedway.com

Highlights

TODAY

ARCA: Practices at 1 and 2 p.m.

FRIDAY

Sprint Cup: Practice at 11 a.m., qualifying at 4:15 p.m.

Xfinity: Practices at 12:30 and 3 p.m.

ARCA: Qualifying at 1:40 p.m.

Entertainment: Third Eye Blind, 9:30 p.m.; after party, 11 p.m.-3 a.m.

SATURDAY

Sprint Cup: Practices at 9 a.m. and noon

Xfinity: Qualifying at 10 a.m., Menards 250 at 1:30 p.m.

Entertainment: Elle King, 5:30 p.m.; after party, 11 p.m.-3 a.m.