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WAID’S WORLD: Truex Jr.’s Championship Earns Wide Fan Approval

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While in most cases a NASCAR champion isn’t universally accepted and respected (with, perhaps, the exception of Richard Petty), it seems Martin Truex Jr., the 2017 Monster Series NASCAR Cup titlist, is about as close as it gets.

Using the vast majority of fan response as evidence, Truex. Jr. is an enormously popular champion for several reasons, namely:

He is a first-time champion who bested three former champs – Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski – to earn that distinction. Also, he’s the first series champion from New Jersey. I think most fans like to see someone new rise to the pinnacle.

He races for a team – Furniture Row – that was, for many seasons, considered an outsider and an underdog. It competed with one car, for the most part, and was based in Denver, Col., far removed from NASCAR’s heartland south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

The team enjoyed a technological relationship with Joe Gibbs Racing but that sometimes doesn’t mean a great deal. Getting assistance is one thing, knowing how to use it is quite another. Furniture Row proved it had the skill and talent to make the most of it.

In the end the underdog won it all.

Truex Jr. was not a controversial character who often found himself amid turmoil because he was arrogant, a smart aleck or both. He didn’t have a reputation as a careless, overly rough driver.

Instead, as rigorous a competitor as he was in 2017, Truex Jr. always seemed outgoing, personable and pleasant. I think fans recognized that and thus had no qualms over the personality that became a champion.

Truex Jr. had the capacity to think of others before himself and to give support where it was most needed. All fans know of his girlfriend and partner, Sherry Pollex, who has been staunchly in Truex Jr.’s corner for years despite a battle with ovarian cancer.

From all the evidence their union has been built on a foundation of mutual caring and respect. They have not wallowed in sympathy and I doubt they want any.

I think fans have come to recognize this and it’s one more reason why they appreciate Truex Jr.’s reward.

It’s true many fans do not like the playoff format (both now and in the past) and it’s not likely anything is going to change their minds.

But consider the following: If you believe the champion should be the driver who wins the most races in a season, then it is Truex Jr. with eight victories in 2017.

If you believe consistency is the key to a title, Truex Jr. is also your man. He had 19 finishes among the top five and 26 among the top 10 – again, more than any other driver.

If you support the current playoff format then Truex Jr. performed as you would want. He had more stage wins (18) and playoff points (53) when the “regular” season ended. And he did not fall from first place in the point standings during the entire 10-race session.

I think fans appreciate Truex Jr.’s resilience and determination. He’s been around since 2004 and spent full, if unspectacular, seasons with Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Michael Waltrip Racing. He might well have been on the sidelines after 2013 if Furniture Row’s Barney Visser had not picked him up.

He obviously made the most of his opportunity. He said doing so was a great deal more satisfying than having to return to work on his father’s clam boats.

In conclusion I am of the opinion that Truex Jr. meets fan approval as a champion for a multitude of reasons, as explained.

The 2017 season had its highs and lows; ups and downs – which is true for every year.

Indeed, there were sources for fan complaints or disapproval.

But the fact that Martin Truex Jr. is the champion isn’t one of them.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW STEVE ON TWITTER: @SteveWaid

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Steve Waid

Steve Waid has been in motor sports journalism since 1972, the year he first started covering NASCAR, when he started his newspaper career at the Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin. From there Waid spent time at the Roanoke Times & World as well as NASCAR Scene, where he was the executive editor for 10 years. After retiring in 2010 he became the Vice President of Unplugged Auto Group for its website, MotorsportsUnplugged.com and has now joined POPULAR SPEED as an editor and columnist. Waid has won numerous writing awards and other such accolades. In January of 2014 he was inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame.