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2-Headed Monster: Martin Truex Jr. vs William Byron – Who’s the Championship Favorite?

Martin Truex Jr. put on a clinic Monday (July 17), dominating the Crayon 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, leading 254 laps en route to his third win of the season. He also grabbed the points lead in both the regular season and playoff standings over William Byron.

The driver of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is having a career season as well, winning four races with six weeks to go before the playoffs begin at Darlington Raceway – where he scored his third victory of the year on Mother’s Day.

Between the top Toyota driver and Hendrick Motorsports’ latest success story, which of these two has the edge as the playoff positioning starts to take shape?

This week, Wyatt Watson and Chase Folsom justify their picks in 2-Headed Monster.

Truex Returning True to Form as Championship Favorite

At 43-years old, Truex seems to have turned back the clock to 2017. Following a winless 2022 season, he has seemed to regain the momentum that saw him one of the most dominant drivers of the last seven seasons. In fact, he has only begun his hot streak.

With a much-needed rebound from last year’s chaotic multi-winner season and missing the playoffs despite finishing the regular season sixth in points, Truex has more than shown that he is back being the standard bearer for the TRD teams. He’s emerged right before the playoffs as the championship favorite.

In the last seven races, Truex has collected two wins, at Sonoma Raceway and New Hampshire, the latter a track that had eluded him for what seemed forever in his career. He also has five top fives in that span of races, the most out of anyone in the field.

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In the last few weeks, Truex has asserted himself as the class of the field nearly week in and week out. He has avoided trouble and costly mistakes that plagued the team last year (and that his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates seem to have inherited) seemingly week-by-week, and he now leads the points standings by 17 points over Byron.

Although having one less win and four less stage wins compared to Byron, Truex would start ahead of Byron by one point due to a penalty levied against the No. 24 team earlier in the season that cost Byron five valuable playoff points.

Compared to Byron, Truex has had a better spread of races as of late, and with tracks that Truex has been typically strong at in his career such as Pocono Raceway, Watkins Glen International, and Richmond Raceway to close out the year, I expect Truex to pull away from Byron and cement another regular season championship heading into the playoffs.

Byron, however, is a worthy opponent to face Truex down to the wire in the playoffs, particularly when you consider he’s won on tracks that appear in each round of the playoffs. With his wins at playoff tracks such as Darlington Raceway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and the finale track Phoenix Raceway, Byron is the driver best positioned to battle Truex throughout the entirety of the playoffs.

The biggest obstacle may not even be Truex, but possibly his own teammate, Kyle Larson, who has been quietly consistent the entire season, and a perpetual top-five fixture the last two months.

Speaking of Phoenix, the one big obstacle standing in Truex’s way will be that track as the finale. He had great results at Phoenix in 2021 with a win in the spring and second in the championship race, but dating back to last year, his finishes are 35th, 15th and 17th, respectfully.

Additionally, having to fight off a strong candidate in Byron who won this race earlier this year is going to be a daunting task. However, If Truex and his crew chief, James Small, find out what the winning setup and strategy is at the one-mile track, Truex can certainly capture the title one more time. – Wyatt Watson

William Byron – The Quiet Professional Has Championship Chops

As of right now, I’m putting my money on Byron for multiple reasons. For starters, the championship race is at Phoenix, where Byron was the winner back on March 12 after qualifying on pole and leading 64 laps on the day. As we know with NASCAR’s playoff format, everyone’s entire season comes down to how well you run in the championship finale, if you manage to make it that far.

Since the introduction of the playoffs in 2014, the eventual championship winner has had to win the finale every season between six races at Homestead-Miami Speedway and the last three at Phoenix, so being the defending winner at a track certainly gives you a slight nod above the rest of the field.

Zeroing in on Hendrick Motorsports as a whole, since the introduction of the Next Gen car, they’ve been strong at short tracks. In thirteen races at tracks one mile or less since the series began using the new car, including this year’s NASCAR All-Star Race, Hendrick Motorsports has won six of those races. As for Byron himself, he has shown lots of speed, leading laps in six of those races and leading over 100 laps on four separate occasions.

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While the finishes have not always been there in these races, Byron is having a career year where he seems to be putting it all together, and that speed is starting to translate into wins. Hendrick Motorsports put all four cars in the top 10 at Phoenix in the spring, and it’d be sure to give its best stuff to any of its cars running for a championship.

As for Truex, he doesn’t have the best track record at Phoenix over his career. In 35 career starts, Truex only has an average finish of 15.6 in his career at the desert mile. Further, Truex only has 14 top 10s, six top fives and one win at the track that holds NASCAR’s championship race. Knowing that a win is most likely needed to win the championship, only finishing top five 17% of the time at that same track, with a large pool of starts to pull from, is not going to get the job done.

A lot of those starts were made during a time in Truex’s career when he wasn’t a household name so to speak, between his early years at DEI and then later with Michael Waltrip Racing, and even into his early years with Furniture Row Racing. However, even if you cut his stats to only include 2016-present, when Furniture Row’s alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing began before he eventually made the move to JGR in 2019, his average finish is only 13.8.

Truex did have a stellar year at Phoenix in 2021, winning in the spring while coming home second in the finale, but that year was more of an outlier than anything. Outside of those two races, Truex only has 22 laps led at the track since his time in JGR equipment began.

To top it all off, in three races with the Next Gen car, Truex has been a complete non-factor at Phoenix with an average finish of 22.3 and a best finish of 15th. In order to be considered the championship favorite, Truex and the No. 19 team are going to have to find some speed at Phoenix first, but we won’t have an answer to that until we show up in November.

Now, there are nine other races that both drivers have to navigate in order to even have a shot at Phoenix, which is important in its own right. So far this season we have raced at six of the 10 tracks in the playoffs this season, with Byron winning at three of those: Las Vegas, Darlington, and the previously mentioned race at Phoenix. Both Byron and Truex have great equipment and have shown up big so far this season, but Byron is showing up where it matters, and that’s why he’s the bigger threat to win a championship at this point in time. – Chase Folsom

About the author

Wyatt Watson has been an avid fan of NASCAR since 2007 at the age of 8. He joined Frontstretch in February 2023 after serving in the United States Navy for five years as an Electronic Technician Navigation working on submarines. Wyatt writes breaking NASCAR news and contributes to columns such as Friday Faceoff and 2-Headed Monster. Wyatt also contributes to Frontstretch's social media and serves as an at-track reporter.

Wyatt Watson can be found on Twitter @WyattGametime

Chase began working with Frontstretch in the spring of 2023 as a news writer, while also helping fill in for other columns as needed. Chase is now the main writer and reporter for Frontstretch.com's CARS Tour coverage, a role which began late in 2023.  Aside from racing, some of Chase's other hobbies include time in the outdoors hunting and fishing, and keeping up with all things Philadelphia sports related.

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Echo

Completely wasted space and storyline. Truex or Byron , none of this matters. The champion is the highest finisher among 4 in the last race of the season. That’s it, your whole article is a what if. Neither is the favorite now, except in some people’s heads. Hypothetical bs.

DoninAjax

Who won the last event?

Jeremy

I don’t care who NA$CAR claims the “chumpion” is via the convoluted “chase” BS. The REAL CHAMPION is the driver who amasses the most points over the entire season!

DoninAjax

If NA$CAR wants the drivers to drive at 100% in every event for the entire season then have the “Champion” decided by whoever has the most POINTS at the end of the season.

WJW Motorsports

Flip a coin twice. It would be just as legitimate as the real thing.

Shayne

It’s really hard to wade through the abundant conflicts of interest within NA$CAR . Something about strange bedfellows comes to mind. Jimmie Johnson tripping all over himself after realizing outside of NA$CAR, he ain’t the man. I suppose we can call these conflicts of interest…alliances. HMS has the bases covered. I believe the tail is wagging the dog.

That’s the kind of BS that’ll get an old school guy like Truex to walk away.

DoninAjax

Edwards saw the light!

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