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For Truex, The Race For Respect Rages On

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 7 2015
Martin Truex Jr. says, yes, he and his team are underdogs. But he also would like some credit for their results. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Rusty Jarrett )

Martin Truex Jr. says, yes, he and his team are underdogs. But he also would like some credit for their results. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Rusty Jarrett )

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – Martin Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing are poised to play underdog at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend, and perhaps all the way into NASCAR’s Championship 4.

bugnotesTruex sits third in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship point-standings heading into Sunday’s 11th annual AAA Texas 500 here. Four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon clinched a “Final Four” spot with his victory at Martinsville Speedway last Sunday, leaving three openings to be filled between here and Phoenix International Raceway for the season-ender at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Perhaps NASCAR’s most famous “little team” champion was the late Alan Kulwicki, who won the 1992 championship as owner/driver of his single-car Ford “Underbird.” So, let the comparisons begin.

“Well, there’s two sides to it,” said Truex, driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row/Precision Chevrolet SS. “I really enjoy the underdog role. It’s really cool for a lot of reasons. If you look at our race team, we are an underdog. I’ve never been in a championship battle in this series. I’ve got a rookie crew chief (Cole Pearn). We’re a single-car team in Denver. There’s a lot of reasons why we really do fit the mold of an underdog.

“But at the same time I get frustrated sometimes because I feel like what we’ve done this season gets overlooked. I think people have short memories. We were second in points in the summer and we’ve had a really good season. There are a lot of times where I’d like my team to get a lot more credit than they have. Sometimes, I’d like to get a little more credit as a driver, but at the end of the day that’s not what really matters. What really matters is us coming out here and doing our jobs. For us, it’s really all about our expectations of ourselves and we’re

Martin Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing are looking chasing a championship. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

Martin Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing are chasing a championship. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

going to be disappointed if we don’t perform at the level we know we are capable of. We’ve got three to go. We’ll see what happens. We’re having fun with it.”

Furniture Row will exit the Chevrolet camp at season’s end for a new alliance with Toyota via Joe Gibbs Racing. Despite that impending switch, Truex is wheeling a brand new No. 78 Chevy here. “Right now, it’s all laying on this year, focused 100 percent,” said Truex, who has posted an average finish of ninth through the first seven Chase races.

“I think we’ll need to improve for sure, unless we have some crazy stuff happen again in the next two weeks _ which is highly likely,” Truex said. “I don’t think nine will be good enough. I also think almost every race in the Chase, besides Martinsville and Talladega, we’ve run better than we’ve finished. We need to change that. If we can finish the way we’ve been running, I think we’ll be in good shape.”

If there is a code NASCAR drivers are supposed to live by on-track, Carl Edwards says it apparently is written in invisible ink. Proper etiquette was a hot topic Friday during several interviews at Texas Motor Speedway in the wake of the two-race suspension levied by NASCAR against Matt Kenseth for dumping Joey Logano in the closing stages of last Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway.

Asked if Kenseth’s suspension and probation through the end of the year cleared-up the code

Carl Edwards needs more information on codes of conduct in NASCAR. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Rusty Jarrett )

Carl Edwards needs more information on codes of conduct in NASCAR. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Rusty Jarrett )

of conduct, Edwards said, “Not really, no. I don’t know what it all means. There’s so many factors in this situation with so many different things happening, it’s really difficult to line it all up and say, ‘OK, this is why this happened and this is how to proceed going forward.’ It seems pretty complex. I’m just going to focus on my deal and we’ll move on.”

Edwards jokingly recalled testing the code during a series of incidents involving Brad Keselowski during the early days of the latter’s Cup career that since has been capped by a series championship in 2013.

“Car racing, everybody drives their car and you just have to do what you think is the best and what is the right thing to do at the time, and all of us have done all sorts of things,” said Edwards, driver of the No. 19 Sport Clips Toyota Camry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing. “Some of them were right, some of them definitely weren’t right. You just have to go out there and race everybody the way you want to be raced. In some ways you have to demand the same in return.”

Edwards, a two-time race-winner this season who is fifth in Chase points, offered an anecdote from his tenure as a young Cup driver with Roush Fenway Racing.

“Mark Martin very early-on, we were racing at Bristol in 2004 maybe or 2005, and Mark is a mentor of mine,” Edwards said. “He is one of my heroes and helped me a ton in my career and during that race he ran into the back of my car _ it was all I could do to not wreck. I wondered what happened and didn’t know what was going on. On Monday, I called him, ‘Hey Mark.’ He said, ‘Hey Carl.’ I said, ‘Remember that race when you ran into the back of me and I didn’t know if there was something that I needed to know there?’ He said, ‘No, for the last few races you’ve been racing me hard and I thought you were taking a little more and I just figured if that’s how you want to race, that’s how you want to race.’ I was like, ‘Whoa, no I don’t want to race like that.’ He said, ‘OK, fine, then don’t and we won’t. See you next week.’

“That was it. It made me realize I personally try to race everyone the way I’d like to be raced. Everybody makes mistakes. If I make a mistake, I try to say I made a mistake there. For the most part, I think everyone does a good job with that in the garage.”

Edwards said he has spoken with Kenseth, his JGR teammate, in the wake of NASCAR’s decision and the appeals process Kenseth lost (twice) on Thursday. “I think a lot of Matt,” Edwards said. “It was a shock, the penalty to me. I think everyone will be on pretty decent behavior because of that. If that’s how it’s going to be, we definitely have to be careful. I don’t have a #FreeMatt t-shirt. I could get one from Denny (Hamlin), I bet.”

Erik Jones’ dance card at TMS went three-race-full Thursday night when Matt Kenseth lost a pair of appeals to override NASCAR’s two-race suspension. Jones will make the third Cup start of his career in Sunday’s 11th annual AAA Texas 500 in the No. 20 DeWalt Toyota Camry in place of Kenseth.

“When the appeals process was done, we knew we were going to be doing it,” said Jones, who won Friday night’s Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino & Resort 350 and finished fourth in Saturday afternoon’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge XFINITY Series event here. “We’d done some things throughout the week to try to get prepared a little bit. Mainly, fitting in the No. 20 car and making sure everything was going to be somewhat close.”

The NCWTS point-leader for Kyle Busch Motorsports, Jones is a developmental driver for Joe Gibbs Racing. Part of his weekend will be spent introducing himself to the No. 20 team’s regulars. “I didn’t really know anybody on the No. 20 car,” said Jones, 19. “Going into this weekend I didn’t know Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) that well, I’d only met him once. I really didn’t know anybody that worked on the No. 20 so I just had to kind of get to know people.”

The 2003 Cup champ, Kenseth has been eliminated for the 2015 title. That said, Jones’ goal for Sunday is modest.   “I want to be able to make it to the end of the race and say we ran all 334 laps on Sunday,” Jones said. “If we can say that and have run in the top-15, I think that’s a really good day for us.”

Jeff Gordon, Texas rancher, might become a suitable title for the four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion following his retirement as an active driver at season’s end.

Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage “ponied-up” Friday with farewell gifts for Gordon, who will make his final start here in Sunday’s 11th annual AAA Texas 500. Gossage truly shocked Gordon by trotting out a pair of Shetland ponies into the speedway’s infield media center for Jeff’s children _ 8-year-old Ella and 5-year-old Leo. In addition to “Scout,” a 300-pound black-and-white paint pony and “Smoky,” a 400-pound dapple-colored pony, Gossage presented Gordon with a shovel.

“Are you out of your mind?” Gordon said. “Oh, my God, Eddie…you have no idea what you just did to me.”

“Yes I do,” said Gossage, dressed like a ranch-hand in cowboy hat and bandana.

“You have lost it,” said Gordon, unsure if he should laugh or cry. “Eddie, you are unbelievable. These are going to look good in my backyard in Charlotte.”

Gossage told Gordon his kids already had been contacted about their new pets. “So, you can’t give them back. And the homeowner’s association already has been notified,” Gossage said.

“This is amazing. My kids are absolutely going to flip-out,” Gordon said.

Gordon was presented with custom-made Luskey’s black cowboy boots featuring his No. 24 and signature as well as TMS logo on each, a mini Gordon Road street sign that is a replica of the one on- property and a commissioned mural artwork piece depicting his 2009 win at TMS by renowned sports artist David Arrigo.

The artwork was part of a five-canvas “Live Mural Experience” in which Arrigo has been touring the DFW Metroplex and painting among the public day and evening since Monday. He was set-up in the media center and had Gordon assist him in painting portions of each canvas during the press conference. Arrigo will finish painting the mural Sunday, situated on the infield grass in front of the starting grid during pre-race activities. The other four paintings from the mural will be donated to Speedway Children’s Charities-Texas Chapter to be auctioned off at a later date.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 7 2015
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