Martin Truex Jr.'s blue-collar journey will surely lead to NASCAR Cup title in 2017

Martin Truex Jr. is not a lonesome loser.

He’s crawled his way up the ranks and paid the requisite dues. Truex’s long trajectory dates to racing go-karts at the New Egypt Speedway in central New Jersey and a pit stop in Mooresville, N.C., where he once rented a home from Dale Earnhardt Jr. as he carved a niche in NASCAR.

Truex now has a smoother ride in his No. 78 Toyota for Furniture Row Racing and can buy plenty of fancy homes with an estimated worth of $30 million.

Just don’t be surprised if that number goes up a few notches by the end of November, shortly after he becomes King of NASCAR in 2017 and wins his first Cup season title.

This isn’t exactly high-stakes handicapping. Truex has had the dominant ride of the season and proved it Sunday with a victory at Chicagoland. He already had entered the new-fangled NASCAR playoffs as the No. 1 seed.

This just builds his case for “catch me if you can.”

“I don’t care much about statements; I’m just having fun,” Truex said in Victory Lane amid the celebratory pomp and circumstance.

The victory automatically puts him in the second round as the elimination-series cutdown from 16 drivers continues until the final four in Homestead on Nov. 19.

Truex has five victories this season, including the latest one that was quite impressive. The challenges included driving through the field after a speeding penalty and having to crawl back from 13th to the lead after an unscheduled pit stop for loose lug nuts.

No worries. He led all but one lap in the final 78 laps of the race, winning by 7.2 seconds.

“It feels great, the best feeling in the world,” Truex said. “Not just the playoffs, but winning races and doing it the way we’re doing it right now. I’m just blessed to be here and I have the best team in the whole world and I love those guys. I’m glad I’m driving for them and glad we’re having success.”

Stuff can happen in any of the nine races moving forward. Ask Matt Kenseth, who had an odd encounter with an ambulance at Richmond a week ago. But this feels different.

Truex has been a tough man to catch over the last few seasons, finishing fourth and 11th the last two Cup seasons. He’s No. 1 right now, with 58 playoff points. That’s 25 more than Kyle Larson in second.

As for other intangibles, Truex is as nice as they come off the track: pleasant, unassuming and not a drop of rich-blood oozing through his body.

Do not be deceived, however.

“He has a split personality,” said Jeff Burton, an NBC Sports race analyst. “That’s his secret. Martin Truex Jr. off the race track is unbelievably nice, unbelievably kind and giving. On the track, you can’t race like that.

“You have to race like your mom told you not to act when you were playing with your friends. That’s how you have to race. That’s what he does. You have to have a split personality.”

The second one is the problem child for his NASCAR competitors.

Have fun trying to catch Mr. Truex.

Driver moves

Please leave the porch light on for Danica Patrick. She may not be with Stewart-Haas Racing next season, but there still might be a ride for her somewhere else.

That comes from someone who knows her better than you do — boss man Tony Stewart.

“Good question,” Stewart said during a Tuesday morning segment on the “Dan Patrick Show.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what she has planned. She has so much stuff going on. She reminds me a lot of me. She’s got wineries, she’s got her yoga stuff, she’s got a clothing line she’s working on. But I don’t see her leaving the sport. She’s that driven and that competitive. She still wants to win.”

As for another photogenic racer looking for a new future, it was announced Tuesday that Kasey Kahne will drive for Leavine Family Racing in the No. 95 Chevrolet Camaro next season. He'll replace Michael McDowell, who has driven that car since 2014. Kahne has been with Hendrick Motorsports since 2012. The team bought him out of his contract for next season, making him a free agent. Kahne had a rough opening round to the playoffs at Chicagoland, where he finished 21st and is 15th in the 16-driver field.

NASCAR mourning

The NASCAR Nation is mourning the loss of Ted Christopher, who died in a plane crash Saturday in Connecticut.

Christopher, 59, won 48 NASCAR Modified Series races and also hundreds of feature wins in the Northeast.

“Christopher was a throwback to NASCAR's roots," NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said. "He was a tough racer's racer, and his hard-driving style and candid personality endeared him to short-track fans throughout the country. He will be missed throughout the racing community, in the garage and, especially, in the hearts of his many fans."

gdiaz@orlandosentinel.com

Twitter: @georgediaz

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