By Monte Dutton
Resistance is futile. Martin Truex Jr.’s season is a wildfire, out of control, fueled by drought conditions elsewhere.
The Bank of America 500 came down to an overtime finish matching the indomitable Truex against a host of NASCAR immortals — genuine, would-be and arriving soon — who didn’t have a chance.
Denny Hamlin, who started the Charlotte Motor Speedway autumn race on the pole, said that where speed was concerned, Truex had it — and has it every week — in reserve, with whipped cream and cherries on top.
Truex’s sixth victory of the season was an excellent time to make that argument. Truex qualified 17th on Friday. Only twice — both times on plate tracks where it doesn’t much matter — has he qualified worse. Seventeen times Truex has started on the front two rows.
Many observers, including virtually all those who describe races electronically, thought Truex starting 17th suggested a certain susceptibility to grim defeat. More likely, he was just having a little fun.
Cole Pearn, the unassuming crew chief, said they sure messed up in qualifying and added that it was evidence of “how close everyone is.” He couldn’t keep his face completely straight.
A lot of the Truex case has been tagged as evidence for how far away everyone else is. On the two laps noted for a green, a white, and a checkered flag, Truex’s Camry laid close to a second (.911) on Chase Elliott, and even young Elliott couldn’t beat himself up too much for that.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s nice to run in the top five solidly,” Elliott, who has done it two weeks in a row and three of the last four. “Obviously, you hate to run second because that means you were close to first, but hopefully we’ll have our day sometime.”
In two late-race restarts, Truex’s Toyota took off as if it were a blue streak. On second thought, it was a blue streak.
If the season has a mystery regarding Truex, Pearn, Barney Visser, Denver, Colo., and Furniture Row, it is why hasn’t the team won 16 races instead of six?
The winner’s press conference seemed ridiculous. Most of the questions asked what made the team so strong, and most of the answers were because of how great the competition was. The question may have many answers, but that one isn’t it.
For what it’s worth, the answers to all questions regarding strength — by Truex, Toyota, the team, the State of Colorado — are not to be found in the conspiracy files, either. The grapes of Ford and Chevy wrath are sour. The overwhelming reason for Toyota supremacy in NASCAR, circa 2017, is not that NASCAR’s best and brightest have been paid off. Nor is it that its engineers are double-aught spies from the Organization Formerly Known as the KGB.
A NASCAR legend named Banjo Matthews, now looking down from heaven at Toyota with serenity, is associated with a slogan: “Money buys speed. How fast you want to go?”
The Toyota answer: Pretty damned fast. In NASCAR, the way one tells that a company has barely limited money is when said company says it doesn’t. It’s the same principle as chalking up a football team’s 59-0 victory to the incredible level of the opponent’s “athleticism.”
In modern-day NASCAR, points don’t mean much, but it doesn’t look bad on a resume that Truex has led them 13 weeks in a row.
Know what? Strip away the high level of pontification that often accompanies press-conference questions, and Truex is a straight shooter. Six victories, given his and his team’s performance week after week, from the high banks of Talladega to the flat concrete curves of Martinsville, are damned near the Marty Truex minimum.
“We could have won 10 or so,” Truex said. “That’s a realistic number. Winning six seems ridiculous, though. You don’t worry about the ones that got away.”
No. That’s Chase Elliott’s role. His day will come. At age 37, Truex knows some things that Elliott doesn’t at age 21.
Editor’s Note: Longtime racing journalist Monte Dutton covered the Charlotte race for this website. If you’re interested in more of his racing-related work, check out his novels “Lightning in a Bottle” and its sequel “Life Gets Complicated.”