It was his first full season in the NASCAR Busch Series, but on Saturday, Martin Truex, Jr. had history on his side.
Truex guided his Chance 2 Motorsports Chevy to a fourth place finish at Darlington Raceway, sporting the same yellow-and-blue Wrangler Jeans paint scheme that Dale Earnhardt had when he won his first of seven NASCAR (Winston) Cup championships in 1980.
The paint job was chosen by Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who owns the Chance 2 team along with his stepmother Teresa Earnhardt.
"Just to have the opportunity to win my first championship with this paint scheme is beyond anything any driver could ever dream," Truex admitted. "I would like to thank Teresa, Dale Jr. and the Wrangler Corporation for making this possible."
Truex started in the pole at Darlington after qualifying was rained out on Friday. He started the day with a 161 point lead over Kurt Busch, the only other driver that could have won the championship. Busch wrecked with 48 laps left in the race and finished 33rd. Truex finished fourth.
"(I have) the greatest car owners in the world," said Truex, the 18th champion in the Busch Series. "We've been through so much -- we've learned so much together. I'm glad to get my man Junior his first owner's trophy. I've got to thank him for everything he's given me."
After a 28th place finish at Daytona in the season-opener on Valentine's Day, Truex rebounded with a second-place run one week later at Darlington. He picked up his first of a series-leading six wins at Bristol in March and took the points lead for the first time with his third win of the season at Gateway in May.
"God blessed this team all year along," said crew chief Kevin Manion. "We've been in some tough spots. All the guys got together and we talked about what we needed to do. It's pretty special. To win a championship - I don't know what this means yet, but it's huge."
Truex wrestled the points lead from Busch for the third and final time with a second-place run at Nashville Superspeedway in June. He has a series-high 17 top-5 finishes this season.
Truex, whose father raced in the Busch North Series, made his debut in the Busch Series at Dover in 2001. He ran 15 races over three years, picking up a pair of top-5 finishes, including back-to-back second place finishes to close out the 2003 season. He was personally selected by Earnhardt Jr. to drive the car.
"I definitely can't take all the credit," said Earnhardt Jr., who won back-to-back Busch Series championships in 1998 and 1999. "I've put a lot into this and Teresa has put a lot into this. We brought the right man in to do the job. He speaks for himself and he does it loud. This is too good to be true."
See also: McMurray cruises to Darlington win