Easily the most pleasant surprise of the 2015 Sprint Cup season, Martin Truex Jr. and his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team have somehow managed to remain under the radar — at least relatively-speaking — despite amassing downright impressive results.
After stumbling his way to a 24th-place finish in the standings in his first year with the Denver, Colorado-based team, Truex has rolled up 19 top-10 finishes in 30 starts in Year Two with the single-car organization.
Heading into Sunday’s second of three races in the Chase Contender Round, Truex is third among the 12 championship-eligible drivers — no guarantee of reaching the next round, known as the Eliminator 8, but in a good position nevertheless.
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Yet, somehow, Truex and his team led by first-year crew chief Cole Pearn aren’t getting a lot of attention compared with their fellow title contenders.
That’s just fine with them, though. In fact, they really wouldn’t have it any other way.
I think it’s a perfect position for us to be in.
Martin Truex Jr.
"I love it. I think it’s great. I think it’s a perfect position for us to be in," Truex said on Friday at Kansas Speedway, where he later qualified seventh for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400. "The only pressure we have is what we put on ourselves. We know what we’re capable of, and if we fall short of that, we’re going to be disappointed. There’s no outside pressure. There are no expectations for us.
"It’s all about our expectations for ourselves, within our group. And we know what we’re capable of. Like I said, if we don’t perform the way we know we can, then we’re going to be disappointed. We don’t have to worry about what anybody else really says or thinks about it. It’s a good position to be in. It’s a fun position for us."
Pearn, a former team engineer who deserves much of the credit for Truex’s surprising 2015 success, similarly has no burning desire to be the buzz of the garage area.
"It’s fine. I think it’s indifferent, really," Pearn told FOXSports.com at Kansas Speedway. "I think when you get to Homestead (for the winner-take-all championship race) and there’s four cars left and you’re one of them, it’s going to be hard to be under the radar at that point. But that suits us. It’s fine. I think we’re ready to respond for however we’re perceived in that way."
But why does the No. 78 bunch — which celebrated a dominant Chase-clinching victory with Truex in June at Pocono — continue to garner so little attention, at least compared with the other title contenders?
"I don’t know," Pearn said with a laugh. "I’m good with whatever. We’re lucky we’ve had kind of steady results, and we haven’t really been flashy, but either way, that’s what it’s going to take to get there — just being good every week, and being consistent, and hopefully we can continue to do that."
Like his crew chief, still being called a championship "sleeper" by some pundits and fans doesn’t bother Truex in the least. He actually embraces it.
"I think it’s kind of neat, you know? If you look at it, we are an underdog," Truex said. "I’ve never finished in the top 10 in points. We’ve got a rookie crew chief and a single-car team in Denver. There are a lot of things that make us an underdog. We’re a small team.
"Like I said, I think it’s a cool position to be in, and I think we don’t get enough credit for what we’ve done this year. But at the same time, we don’t have that past history or that track record in the Chase or in championship battles. So, I think it’s fair, but I think it’s kind of a fun position for us to be in."