It’s cliché, but it’s truly funny how life works out.
I don’t mean funny like, haha funny, but rather funny in how things tend to play out sometime. Martin Truex Jr. certainly found time to laugh on Sunday night after capturing his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
But it wasn’t that long ago that his career was no laughing matter.
Truex truly believed his career as a full-time competitive NASCAR driver had come to a close. It was autumn 2013 when Michael Waltrip Racing was embroiled in a playoff-manipulation scandal that Truex wasn’t even aware of.
It nevertheless resulted in Truex’s sponsor, NAPA Auto Parts, cutting ties with MWR, immediately leaving Truex without a ride and placing him on the verge of relative motorsports obscurity.
„You know, that Sunday night when I found out after Richmond that NAPA was leaving, that I was losing my sponsor and that my contract would be gone, I truly didn’t know if I would ever race competitively in the Cup Series again,“ Truex said. „I didn’t know if I’d ever have a chance at winning.
„Hell, I didn’t even know if I’d have a chance of driving, period. So (girlfriend) Sherry said, don’t worry, it’s going to be fine, things happen for a reason. I was like, yeah, whatever, you’re damned crazy.“
But again, life works out.
Concurrently, Kurt Busch had decided to leave Furniture Row Racing after taking the one-car team to its first-ever playoff appearance, leaving the Coloarado-based squad with a driver void to fill. It was a natural fit, even if it was partly borne of desperation from both sides.
Remember that at the time, Truex was on the wrong side of 30 with just two Cup Series victories on his resume. Even if he had won two Xfinity Series championships before that, he wasn’t exactly perceived as a franchise player.
But he needed a ride and Furniture Row needed a driver.
That first year was a struggle and didn’t show any indication of the success that would soon follow. Crew chief Todd Barrier was essentially trying to force Kurt Busch set-ups on the veteran driver and it just wasn’t clicking.
Truex led just ONE LAP and finished 24th in the standings.
„2014 sucked,“ Truex said on Sunday night.
But partway through the year, the team started building chassis to the specifications of Truex, even if it wasn’t anywhere close to what Busch would have wanted a year before. And Truex started to build synergy with then car chief Cole Pearn.
„I remember Cole specifically, like looking at me and having this look like, damn, I think this guy actually knows what he’s talking about,“ Truex said. „That was it right there. That was like the switch that flipped, and me and him could see eye to eye, and he bought into what I was saying.
„I bought into what he was saying, and when they made him the crew chief in 2015, he went from being this guy behind the scenes that was really quiet to ‚this is my team and I’m going to run it the way I think I need to‘ and the rest is history.“
The team enjoyed modest success in 2015, even winning a race at Pocono Speedway and surviving to their first Championship 4 appearance at Homestead. But fate hadn’t played all of her cards yet.
Again, life is funny.
Michael Waltrip Racing ultimately shut down partly due to the 2013 playoff-fixing scandal. That left Toyota without second major team to run alongside Joe Gibbs Racing, especially seeing as the two TRD organizations didn’t particularly want to work together anyway.
Toyota brought Furniture Row into the fold, and an elite organization was born. Truex won four races in 2016 but just missed out on a chance to advance into the Round of 8 and another potential championship shot.
But this scenario only emerged because Truex was forced out at MWR.
This scenario only emerged because MWR shut down and left Toyota in need of a team.
It only emerged because Kurt Busch wanted to leave for a team in Stewart-Haas Racing, where he though he stood a better chance to win a championship.
It’s funny, and not in a haha funny way, that Truex is here because of a butterfly effect. The exact moment that left him feeling as though his competitive career had come to a close was in fact the impetus for a chain of events that propelled him to NASCAR immortality.
„There was a couple days where I thought I was completely done,“ Truex said. „Only a couple, though.“
And now he’s the king of the NASCAR universe.
From the start of the playoffs, the No. 78 team had the look of a team of destiny. Mission accomplished. Destiny fulfilled.