Martin Truex Jr., No. 78 Furniture Row Racing are in championship form midway through the NASCAR season

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At the halfway point of NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, driver Martin Truex Jr. and Denver-based Furniture Row Racing are receiving straight-As for preparation and effort. Those elusive victories, however, lower them into the B-plus range.

But make no mistake, the No. 78 team is once again a grade-A championship contender.

Truex, who finished fourth in last year’s standings, has led a series-most 866 laps — including 785 at intermediate tracks (1.5 miles). He came a hood ornament shy of winning the season-opening Daytona 500 and dominated NASCAR’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600, in route to winning the Memorial Day weekend classic.

None of the final eight regular-season races are at intermediate tracks, but half of the 10-race Chase playoffs are at the 1.5-milers. Truex is eighth in the Chase points, with the top 16 drivers qualifying for the playoffs. If Truex gets in, he could be one of the favorites to win the championship.

His team doesn’t dwell on the fact Truex should have a handful of victories, instead of just one.

“You just keep putting yourself in position to win. That’s all you can do,” said crew chief Cole Pearn, a Canadian native living in Golden. “Our success is a product of all the good work everybody is putting in. You hang your hat on that, and if you keep plugging away, it’s going to happen.”

Truex had the dominant car in Saturday’s race at Kentucky Speedway, where he led 46 of 267 laps, but a penalty for passing the leader on pit road and a fuel-mileage issue left him with a 10th-place result. The penalty, which Pearn cannot locate in the rule book, cost Truex the lead and sent him back to 22nd place. But he stormed back to the front and was third when Pearn called his driver in for a splash of fuel, hoping a caution would come out for an overtime finish. But the field remained green and Brad Keselowski won the race on fumes.

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“Martin had the best car all night. If he didn’t have that trouble at the end he probably would have won this race,” Keselowski told reporters after the race.

Pearn said television commentators misled their audience about how much fuel Truex had in comparison to Keselowski and others. In serving his pit-road penalty with a drive-through, Truex stopped at his pit box to top off his fuel, so at the time he had the most fuel in the field.

“We were running at such a faster pace than everybody, and naturally, the harder you run the more fuel you’re using,” Pearn said. “We would have run out with about five (laps) to go, running the pace we were running.”

As for the pit-road penalty for passing the leader while lunging into their pit stall, Pearn said: “Every week you pick (a stall) based on timing-line locations so you can subsequently speed in the zones in front of it and behind it, because it’s impossible for you to actually be caught speeding. That’s a big advantage, having the biggest speeding section you can have, and there’s tons of analysis on that.

“Our stall was right on a timing line so you speed getting in and speed getting out. We passed the leader but we were pulling into our box. There’s no rule against that and it happens every single week. They completely screwed up calling it because the (passing the leader) doesn’t cover that situation.”

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Kentucky went down as another near-miss for NASCAR’s only team based outside the Carolinas. The series continues this weekend at New Hampshire before moving on to Indianapolis and the Brickyard 400 on July 24.

Pearn and the rest of his FRR crew returned Tuesday from a test session at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the 2.5-mile flat oval which Pearn intends to win. That’s the feeling going into every race now.

Martin Truex Jr.
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway on July 8, 2016 in Sparta, Kentucky.

Laps led at intermediate tracks (1.5 miles):

785 Martin Truex Jr.

261 Kevin Harvick

Overall laps led

866 Truex Jr.

829 Harvick

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