(PhatzRadio Sports / FTW) —- Since the beginning of the NASCAR Cup Series season, everyone has been trying to figure out how to chase down Martin Truex Jr. – or at least keep him from winning all seven of the playoff points up for grabs each race.
The No. 78 Toyota driver has been dominant all season, winning four regular-season races and enough stages to give himself a 20-point lead going into the playoffs. To compare, the difference between second and third place was four points.
Four races into the playoffs, Truex claimed two checkered flags – most recently in Sunday’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway – while Kyle Busch earned the other two in his No. 18 Toyota. Through 30 of the 36 total races this season, teams still haven’t figured out how to catch the 78 team.
“They’ve just got things clicking on all types of race tracks,” Hamlin told For The Win while promoting the No. 11 FedEx at Walgreens Toyota he’ll drive at Martinsville Speedway later this month.
“They’re running well, they have no weaknesses, so it’s tough for me to say what exactly it is. They’re winning on all kinds of tracks from superspeedways to road courses. So it’s not one thing in particular. It’s just they’ve got it all clicking, and everyone else is chasing them.”
But Truex and Busch – along with Joe Gibbs Racing’s other drivers drivers, Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and Daniel Suárez – are almost teammates because JGR has a technical partnership with Truex’s Colorado-based Furniture Row Racing team. That means JGR supplies FRR with its cars.
So equipment wise, JGR and FRR teams – including rookie Erik Jones’ No. 77 Toyota – should theoretically be equally competitive. Yet Truex by himself has the same number of wins as all four JGR drivers combined. Even for Busch, who has four wins, and Hamlin, who has the other two, the No. 78 Toyota is the car to beat every single weekend.
The next Cup Series playoff race is Sunday’s Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Truex’s win at Charlotte was in the first of three races in the Round of 12, and he’s now automatically qualified for the Round of 8.
Hamlin explained that while he’s not surprised Truex has racked up so many race wins, he was a little caught off guard by all of Truex’s stage wins throughout the season, which further demonstrate his consistency and dominance over the field. Truex has won 19 stages so far, while Busch is second with 13.
So what’s the difference between Truex’s Toyota and JGR’s Toyotas if they use the same equipment? Hamlin suggested it might be as simple as a fresh pair of eyes.
“They take the best of the best equipment we have, and they make it better, somehow, some way,” Hamlin said. “They do things out in Denver, and they are a very tight-knit group that works hard on their equipment and works hard on their cars.
“And sometimes when you take off the shelf the best of what Joe Gibbs Racing has, you can make it better if you just have a different set of eyes on it. So they perform extremely well, and we look at them every single week as the standard for performance, and we try to learn from them and make ourselves better.”