This 2018 title push will be a test in mental toughness for Martin Truex Jr., Furniture Row Racing crew

LAS VEGAS — “I’m simply not worried.”

Martin Truex Jr. couldn’t stress that enough when talking earlier this week about the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, which begin Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Maybe he has muddled through enough change in his life that the drama over Furniture Row Racing shutting down at the end of the season doesn’t significantly faze him as he eyes a second consecutive NASCAR Cup Series title.

He certainly has had a career full of change. He drove for Dale Earnhardt Inc. before it merged into Chip Ganassi Racing, and he drove for Michael Waltrip Racing before his sponsor dropped the team and left Truex jobless and looking for a ride in September 2013.

He has, in some ways, good reason not to worry. Truex is settled for next season — he says “maybe” he is settled and “I’m not allowed to comment” on whether he has a ride next season with Joe Gibbs Racing. But he also says he is a different driver than the nervous one wondering if his career was over after the MWR Richmond scandal in which he was somewhat of an innocent victim.

“I’m coming off a championship, and back then I wasn’t coming off much of anything to write on,” Truex said.

Let’s be real: Truex and the Furniture Row Racing team have a tough road ahead of them as they try to navigate the playoffs and their futures.

While Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn appear set, other crew members will have to decide whether to move to North Carolina (where JGR is headquartered) from their Denver roots or potentially stay and work for another one of team owner Barney Visser’s companies.

“It’s tough,” Pearn said. “I know just personally I have to go through all that. It’s not like being in North Carolina, go to a different team.

“A lot of people are going to stay out there. Everybody has got different things that they’re going through. It plays on you, for sure. There’s no way that it can’t.”

Truex said “individually it may vary” on whether a crew member is entering the playoffs with mounting frustration.

“As a group as a whole, I feel like we’re ready for the challenge,” he said. “We understand the situation we’re in. We want to make the most of it. We know what last year felt like. We want to all do it again.”

Pearn said he believes the announcement that the team would close at the end of the year being made a week prior to the start of the playoffs should allow the hard feelings to subside.

“Obviously it hurts, still,” Pearn said as he stood in the garage last week at Indianapolis. “Everybody is worried about their future and stuff. It at least gives everybody a couple of weeks to digest it a bit and we can kind of clear our heads and be ready for Vegas. … A lot of us have been doing this a long time.

“It’s easy to get locked back into your work. It’s one nice thing — you can lock into your work and you don’t have to think about all the other stuff. Work is a good distraction in a lot of ways.”

Neither Truex nor Pearn are concerned that Visser won’t spend money on a part or piece that might be needed to win the title.

Truex said Visser has given the team a great place to work, and crew members in turn will try to show appreciation by doing their best.

“I don’t worry about next year until next year,” Truex said. “I’ve got 10 more races to go. I feel like our team is on the same page, as far as that goes.

“We’ve got a real good group of guys that really appreciates the opportunity we see ourselves in again this year.”

Truex doesn’t plan on having to give his team many pep talks.

“I try to just do all the same things I always do,” Truex said. “When you get in spots like this, we’ve had such a great team the last few years, you don’t want to do anything out of the ordinary, especially when you get in pressure situations.

“You don’t want to single guys out. Cole does a real good job of handling the guys, and I just try to do my part and be positive and not beat a dead horse and do all I can to get everything out of our race cars.”

That should be fine unless the team gets knocked out of the playoffs.

“If we get knocked out, it is going to be horrible,” Pearn admitted.

Of course, no one is trying to think that way. If anything, they’re trying to think about the past and what they did last year to win a title — and trying to replicate that 10-race stretch. While they have four wins this year, they have not been as dominant as they were in 2017.

“We all know that [championship] is something that may only happen once in a lifetime and here we are standing on the front porch having another opportunity to go get it,” Truex said. “That’s the mentality.”

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