Martin Truex Jr. looks to next season as 2016 goes up in flames

For much of the 2016 season, Martin Truex Jr. was the hottest driver in the NASCAR Premier Series.

But he didn’t expect his season to go up in flames in the end.

It literally did when the No. 78 Toyota he drives for Furniture Row Racing exploded into flames after being collected in a late-race, nine-car wreck in last Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Truex was collateral damage after the cars of Championship 4 contenders Carl Edwards and Joey Logano wrecked in front of him, stacking up the field behind them.

It was a spectacular end to a remarkable season, but not in the way Truex had hoped. Fortunately, he was able to exit his car and get a safe distance from the terrifying inferno without suffering any injuries – but it was a charred shell of its former self by the time track emergency workers were able to extinguish the fire.

By the time he exited the infield care center, Truex already was looking forward to 2017 – when the Furniture Row operation will add another car to be driven by up-and-coming star Erik Jones.

“It was one of those wrong-place, wrong-time moments. … It’s frustrating,”  Truex said. “I’m glad this year is over and we will go and regroup and get ready for next year.”

Most of the year was not so frustrating for Truex, who won a career-high four races – including two earlier in the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs before he was eliminated in final race of the Round of 12 at Talladega when he blew an engine just 41 laps into the event. Truex also wrecked out of the penultimate race of the season at Phoenix a week before Homestead.

In addition to winning four races in his first season behind the wheel of a Toyota, Truex also claimed five poles, led the most laps of any Cup driver (1,809) and spent most of the season near the top of the points standings before the 40th-place finishes at both Talladega and Phoenix doomed his season. He ended up 11th in points.

The wreck at Homestead, where he finished 36th, merely put a miserable cap on an otherwise outstanding season. Truex had only one other finish 36th or worse all season – with that coming at Pocono last Aug. 1 when he finished 38th.

“It was a tough way to go out after starting the Chase with two victories in the first three races,” said Truex, referring to his wins at Chicagoland and Dover that at the time established him as one of the championship favorites.