Martin Truex Jr. hopes momentum continues at always-risky Talladega

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Having won the outside pole, Martin Truex Jr. came into the season-opening Daytona 500 with arguably the best chance he’s ever had of winning the Great American Race.

Unfortunately for Truex, his best chance lasted just 30 laps into the 500’s 200 laps, ending dead last in the 43-car field.

“I felt I had my best opportunity of winning the Daytona 500,” Truex said. “That’s how good our Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet was. Unfortunately we didn’t get to showcase our strength due to an oil pump failure.”

As NASCAR returns to restrictor plate racing for the second time this season in Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 Sprint Cup race at the massive 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway – the largest oval on the NASCAR circuit – Truex hopes fate will smile significantly more on him than it did at Daytona.

He has reason to be optimistic, coming off his best showing of the season last Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway when he finished 10th.

“After what we’ve been through finishing 10th in Richmond felt good,” Truex said. “I feel we’re in position as a team to continue the momentum.”

Momentum has been in relatively short supply thus far for Truex in 2014. After Daytona, Truex has had just the lone top-10 at Richmond and two other top-20 finishes (14th at Las Vegas, 18th at Texas).

While he’s with a new team in 2014, having left after four seasons with Michael Waltrip Racing after NAPA pulled its sponsorship from the team, Truex is coming off two of the strongest runs of his career at Talladega last season, finishing seventh in the spring race and eighth in the fall Chase for the Sprint Cup event.

But at the same time, what he did so well – prior to the oil pump failure, that is – at Daytona doesn’t really mean much at ‘Dega. While both facilities are restrictor plate racetracks, the similarities end there.

“When you go to Talladega it’s a whole new can of worms compared to Daytona because the track is so much wider,” Truex said. “There are more options as far as cars moving around at Talladega.

“Typically, Daytona is a two-wide, sometimes three-wide track where as Talladega is three-wide all the time and sometimes even four-or-five wide. There’s always a lot of side drafting going on at Talladega; these cars are very sensitive to that. The best choice of lane at Daytona is not necessary the best choice of lane at Talladega.”

While encouraged by his finish at Richmond, as well as his last two starts at ‘Dega (out of six career top-10s there), Truex is also cognizant that his average finish there is 21.2, not to mention he’s recorded nine DNFs (50 percent) in his 18 career Sprint Cup starts there.

Seven of those nine DNFs have been due to wrecks, many in Talladega’s infamous “big one,” multi-car crashes.

On the plus side, Truex has been involved in only one wreck in his last eight starts at Talladega – yet another good sign coming into this weekend.

But Truex isn’t taking anything to chance, either.

“You know there’s a good chance you’re going to crash at Talladega,” Truex said. “That’s the way it is and that’s the way it’s always been. There’s not really a whole lot of point thinking about it too much.”

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MRTI: Barber Motorsports Park Preview

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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After a month break, the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is back in action this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, with two of its series tacking the 2.38-mile road course in Birmingham, Alabama.

Both the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires and the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires have double-headers this weekend, with Pro Mazda returning to Barber after not running there last year.

The season-opening weekend in St. Petersburg was a tale of two completely different stories, with two different winners – Pato O’Ward and Santi Urrutia – and more than a fair bit of chaos for Indy Lights, while Pro Mazda saw Rinus Veekay sweep the weekend.

Talking points for both series heading into Barber are below.

Indy Lights

Santi Urrutia heads to Barber leading the Indy Lights championship on the strength of finishes of second and first in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Santi Urrutia displayed great patience at St. Petersburg, finishing second in Race 1 and winning Race 2 after rivals like O’Ward and Colton Herta faltered. However, Barber has not been one of his better tracks, with finishes of 11th, 15th, and 13th in three of his four Indy Lights starts. Yet, he did win Race 2 at Barber 2016, so he has had success there before, and he will be one of the favorites heading into the weekend.
  • Pato O’Ward looks poised to be a title contender in 2018 and will look to avenge a somewhat disappointing outing at St. Petersburg. O’Ward had the speed to sweep the weekend, winning Race 1 handily and dominating Race 2, but a mistake late in the race saw him overshoot Turn 4 and briefly stall before he could rejoin, relegating him to seventh. If O’Ward can show the pace he showed at St. Pete, he might end up being the man to beat.
  • Colton Herta will look to rebound from a St. Pete weekend in which he flashed the speed that caught everyone’s attention last year, but also committed the same mistakes that ultimately prevented him from taking a championship. After finishing third in Race 1, Herta crashed while chasing then leader O’Ward in Race 2. Herta won Race 2 at Barber last year, and getting another win this weekend, along with staying mistake free, would go a long way to erasing his problems from St. Pete.
  • Aaron Telitz is also looking to rebound after a down weekend, as his St. Petersburg weekend lasted all of two corners across both races – he won the Pole for Race 1, but crashed in Race 2 qualifying, and the Belardi Auto Racing team could not repair the car to allow him to race. After the team borrowed a chassis from Carlin for Race 2, Telitz get collected with Juncos Racing’s Victor Franzoni right off the start, and he crashed again, this time in Turn 2. Telitz finished on the podium at Barber in 2016, the year he won the Pro Mazda championship, and he’ll look for more of the same this weekend.

Pro Mazda

Rinus VeeKay swept the Pro Mazda weekend in St. Petersburg. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Rinus Veekay had a perfect weekend to open the Pro Mazda season. The Juncos Racing driver outdueled Exclusive Autosport’s Parker Thompson for the Race 1 victory, and then ran away with Race 2 to complete the weekend sweep. Veekay was expected to be a title contender after moving up to Pro Mazda in 2018, and if he can repeat his St. Pete performance, then he may leave Barber as the heavy favorite in the championship.
  • Not to be forgotten, Parker Thompson sits second in the Pro Mazda title chase, and looks to avenge losing out to Veekay in St. Pete Race 1, and then fading somewhat to finish fifth in Race 2. Thompson was the only driver to regularly challenge Veekay and Oliver Askew in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season, and he and Exclusive Autosport have adapted nicely to the new Tatuus PM-18. If they can show the same form at Barber, and then finish the job with at least one trip to Victory Lane, then it could set the stage for another titanic Pro Mazda championship fight.
  • Last year’s USF2000 champion Oliver Askew had a quiet weekend in St. Pete, finishing fifth and sixth in the two races. He swept the Barber races in USF2000 last year, and will need a similar performance to vault himself forward from his current place of sixth in the standings.
  • Carlos Cunha and David Malukas head to Barber third and fourth in the championship after solid St. Pete weekends – Cunha had finishes of fourth and third, while Malukas had finishes of seventh and second. Neither was necessarily looked at as a title combatant entering 2018, but repeat performances in Barber could vault them into title contention.

A full weekend schedule, including the Mazda Road to Indy sessions, can be viewed here.

**Note: NBCSN will broadcast Sunday’s Indy Lights race (Race 2 from the weekend) on Monday, April 23.**

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