What a difference a year can make. One year ago, Martin Truex Jr. was heading down the final stretch of his rookie season in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series. His best finish of the year was an eighth in Texas and he was 23rd in the point ...
What a difference a year can make.
One year ago, Martin Truex Jr. was heading down the final stretch of his rookie season in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series. His best finish of the year was an eighth in Texas and he was 23rd in the point standings. He was a distant second behind teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the pecking order at Dale Earnhardt Inc.
Fast forward 12 months and Truex has a win under his belt, is one of 12 drivers to make the Chase for the Championship and with Earnhardt ready to jump ship to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, Truex has become the heir to the throne at DEI.
It has been a big change for Truex, but he feels like it was just a matter of time before he would find this kind of success in NASCAR's top circuit.
"I think the biggest thing was just getting experience - not just for me, but for my whole team and all of us working together in the Cup Series and building that foundation," said Truex, who is in sixth place in the Chase for the Championship after a fifth place finish in New Hampshire last weekend. "All the teams that are good have been doing this for a long time. To be able to run with them (this year) has been great."
The two-time Busch Series champion finished off last season with a second place finish at Homestead, but his 19th place finish in the standings was considered a bit of a disappointment after being touted as a rookie of the year contender. Truex finished behind Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer for the top first-year driver honors.
"I think Denny Hamlin had a big edge on me and some of the other rookies last year coming to a team that has been running well and had been successful in the past," said Truex, who watched Hamlin qualify for the Chase for the Championship and finish third as a freshman. "We had all new guys (and) it took us a while to build a foundation and some confidence. Just working on past experience helps tremendously -- just getting that experience was huge."
After grabbing just three top-10 finishes in the first 12 races this year, Truex won for the first time in his Nextel Cup career at Dover in June. He followed up with top-three finishes in three of the next four races and his second straight runner-up finish at Michigan in August to establish himself as a contender for the Chase.
He was seventh when the field was cut down for the playoff run after Richmond two weeks ago.
"I'm pretty confident," said Truex, the son of the former NASCAR Busch North Series driver. "Obviously there are no guarantees. We need to go out here and do our job and perform the best we can."
After winning at Dover in June, Truex is hoping that he can get to victory lane here again on Sunday in the Dodge Dealers 400 (1:00 p.m. ET on ABC). He led a race-high 216 laps in June, but still admits that the Monster Mile is a tough track to get around.
"It's a tricky place," said Truex, who finished sixth in this race last year. "It's probably one of the tougher tracks that we go to. It's very fast. It's hard to get a hold of. The concrete gets real bouncy. It's just hard to get grip and hard to make you car work good there. I think that's probably the biggest reason a guy figures out some stuff and gets his car to go around there. It's tough for a lot of guys to get their cars working right there."
Despite being the only DEI driver to make the Chase this year, Truex still competes with Earnhardt for the headlines around his garage. He understands that his mentor and close friend is the most popular driver on the circuit and even though Earnhardt failed to make the Chase this year, the news of him moving to Hendrick is one of the biggest stories the sport has had in years.
Truex said that Earnhardt Jr. is his biggest supporters, especially with the chance to win the championship.
"He just told me to enjoy it and have fun," the 27-year-old New Jersey native said. "You've worked all your life for it and to just make sure you have a good time. I don't think that's going to be a problem for us and our bunch. We love racing and enjoy coming to the race track. This is what we love to do. We just feel blessed to be in the Chase and to have all the success we've had this year. We just hope to keep it going and have a great last 10 races."
As far as being the face of the future for DEI, Truex is taking the pressure in stride.
"We're just doing what we can do," said Truex, who has finished on the lead lap in 14 of the past 15 events. "I love my race team and we're having a lot of fun. We're looking forward to next year. We're looking forward to all the stuff coming up and taking this team and this company into the future and winning races and hopefully championships."
In other news this week...Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick announced on Wednesday that Pepsico's Mountain Dew and Amp Energy brands and the National Guard will share a joint sponsorship of Earnhardt's entry in the Nextel Cup Series next season.
They also stated that the car will sport the number 88 after Robert Yates announced earlier in the day that his company will retire the number at the conclusion of the 2007 season. It was a classy move by Yates, who requested that NASCAR transfer the number to Hendrick.
"Ralph Earnhardt drove the No. 88 Olds in 1957 and because of this number's history with the Earnhardt family, I felt car number 88 should continue with Dale Earnhardt, Jr.," Yates said in a statement. "Younger fans don't realize I built cars and raced against Ralph. I also had a very close relationship with Dale Earnhardt, Sr. I'm proud to transfer this number to Dale Jr. and let him know how much I appreciate the friendship and competitive racing I've always enjoyed with his family."
Cut to the Chase: Dover International Speedway (Chase Race 2 of 10)
1. Jimmie Johnson (5,060 points) -- Finished sixth last weekend in New Hampshire and left with a tie for first with his teammate. Johnson finished 15th and a lap down at Dover in June, but is a three-time winner here.
2. Jeff Gordon (0 points behind the leader) -- Second place run last week moved him into a tie for first place. Gordon is a four-time winner here, but hasn't tamed the Monster Mile since 2001.
3. Tony Stewart (10 points behind the leader) -- Led 39 laps and finished third last week to hold onto third in the Chase. He swept the races here in 2000 but hasn't had a top-10 in the past five tries.
4. Clint Bowyer (15 points behind the leader) -- After a dominant win at New Hampshire last weekend, Bowyer jumped from the bottom of the pile up to fourth place in the Chase. He has two eighth place finishes in three Cup tires here and won the Busch Series race here last September.
5. Kyle Busch (35 points behind the leader) -- Finished fourth last week to jump up from ninth in the standings. He had three straight top five finishes here to start his career, but finished 17th in June. He won here in his Craftsman Truck Series debut in 2005.
6. Martin Truex Jr. (40 points behind the leader) - Truex finished fifth last week and picked up five bonus points for leading a lap. He grabbed his first career win here in June.
7. Matt Kenseth (54 points behind the leader) -- Kenseth rallied from a 30th starting spot to a commendable seventh place finish last weekend. He won here in June 2006 and ran out of gas while leading the closing laps of the fall race.
8. Carl Edwards (63 points behind the leader) -- Super effort last week resulted in a 12th place finish in a back-up car with just two qualifying laps to its credit. His third place finish here followed a second place effort from one year ago. Edwards won the Busch race here last fall.
9. Denny Hamlin (82 points behind the leader) -- 15th place finish last week wasn't a disaster, but he will be looking for more this weekend. He hasn't finished lower than 11th in three tires at Dover.
10. Kevin Harvick (88 points behind the leader) -- Harvick moved up one spot despite finishing 17th last week. He hasn't had much luck at Dover and finished 20th here in June.
11. Jeff Burton (91 points behind the leader) -- He finished 18th last weekend while watching his teammate grab his first win. Burton's win here a year ago snapped a five-year drought and was one of the best stories of the season. He finished 12th here in June.
12. Kurt Busch (102 points behind the leader) -- Busch finished 25th last weekend despite starting in third. The Monster hasn't been kind to Busch. His 42nd place finish here in June was his worst of the season.