Fit and relaxed, Martin Truex Jr. talks and looks like a man ready to make a charge in the NASCAR Sprint Cup ranks this season.
Truex, 32, a two-time Nationwide Series champion entering his eighth full season of Cup competition, is the veteran in the growing Michael Waltrip Racing camp.
With the team since 2010, he helped build it from a Michael Waltrip dream to a championship-contending organization. And while the driver himself shies from taking credit for building the team’s prowess, Waltrip is quick to point out just how much of an impact Truex has made on the group – which put two drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time in 2012 – as whole.
“The guy we’re most proud of and more is Martin Truex Jr., he was at MWR before we were quite ready to perform on this level,” Waltrip says. “He hung in there and he fought with us and he got to have some fast cars in 2012 and showed he was capable of winning any race, any weekend. That was a lot of fun for me.”
It was fun for Truex, too. Fun to be around new teammates Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin – who shares the No. 56 with Waltrip and Brian Vickers – and really fun to be back in the mix.
After making the Chase for the Sprint Cup with Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2007, Truex endured a bit of a slump. He was 23rd in the standings in 2009; 22nd in 2010. He rallied in 2012, though, as his MWR group gained ground and returned to the Chase, finishing 11th. Bowyer finished as the series’ runner-up.
Still, Truex has goals to attain. He’s seeking his second career Cup win and looking to continue the recent climb this season.
And make no doubt about it – Truex thinks he’s at the perfect place to do just that.
“I can’t explain to you how much I missed going to the racetrack each and every weekend thinking, ‘We can win this weekend. If we just do everything right and do what we’re supposed to we can do this.’ And obviously we didn’t do that last year and that’s something I’m really looking forward to this year again,” he said. “There was a couple of years there where it was, you go to the racetrack thinking, ‘What can we get out of it.’ It wasn’t, ‘Man we can go here and win this weekend.’ It was ‘What can we do to at least get in the top 10.’ Or ‘What is it going to take to get to the next level?’
“It’s fun to go to the track every week and have that confidence in your team and the things you’re doing. That’s all we ask for as drivers, that’s all we want. It’s hard to stay there so hopefully we’ll be able to do that this year.”
That fun comes from more than just the competition, though.
While Truex is as dedicated and intent on working with and improving his race team as anyone, he also finds ways to have some time to himself away from the track. That’s an asset in a series that races 38 weekends a year, all around the country.
Chief among Truex’s interests is fishing – though he admits that even in that there’s a level of competition.
With that in mind, which trips to tracks does he prefer on the Sprint Cup circuit?
“Places I can go fishing, I prefer,” he said. “We’ve got some places on the circuit – (Ryan) Newman and I do a lot of fishing together, so if we get Saturdays off or whatever, we get done with practices on Saturday, Michigan is one of them, Pocono, places like that where we have a little fishing spot to get away,” he says. “It gets kind of boring sitting in the motor home and going out to dinner, so it’s nice to have a fishing hole to go to and hang out.”
But are they competitive with one another on these relaxing fishing jaunts?
“Yes, of course,” Truex says with a laugh. “First, biggest and most.”
Don’t let the casual attitude mislead you, though. Truex is clearly a hard-core fisherman.
“Biggest fish I ever caught? Well they’re always bigger than they are, you know, fish stories,” he says. “I think the biggest I ever caught was like a 125-pound yellow fin tuna. Which on rod and reel them things, they’ll just wear you out. You catch one, you’re done for the day. You just want to go home and sit on the couch.”
That catch came off the coast of New Jersey. Truex counts Alaska and Canada among the places he’s looking forward to someday heading to for more fishing trips.
For now, though, those kind of trips will have to wait as Truex puts his emphasis on MWR.
He’s confident and comfortable in where the team is today – and how he and his teammates have worked together to get it to this point.
In the beginning, he might not have known exactly how the melding of Bowyer, Martin, Vickers and himself would work – but he’s found it all to be pleasantly surprising.
He just steps back when asked about his veteran role and how it has shaped the team’s growth, especially in 2012 when both he and Bowyer made the Chase, Bowyer won three races and all of the drivers, including Waltrip and Vickers, challenged for wins from time to time.
There’s no disputing, though, that Truex has seen MWR grow drastically during his tenure there.
“I was a part of it,” he says. “I wouldn’t say I did it. We all did it together. There was a lot of people that worked hard to get to where we were and I was just a small part of that. Last year was fun. It was so much fun to work with those guys — with Clint and Mark and Brian. The camaraderie inside the team was just great. It made me a better driver. It’s made me look at things differently, and I can honestly say I learned more last year in one season than I probably have in the last four or five years combined.
“Just about how to be more a part of the team, how to be smarter, how to look at things a little bit differently and kind of step back. So, I just had a blast working with those guys and it was fun to be able to get the results we were looking for.”
He will admit that perhaps he helped set the early tone in areas like competition meetings, helping guide the group into seeing how close the trio of teams work together and that they really do function as one.
Truex says that’s an experience he hasn’t had before with other teams, that there was a little less openness with his other groups.
“We truly are one team with three cars,” he says. “We’re not three teams. We’re one team with three cars. We have guys that work in the shop on my car and go on the road and work on the (No.) 55 and vice versa. It’s just a good thing.”
Now, his primary goal is to keep that good thing moving in the right direction – and improve upon it. As he gears up to kick of the 2013 season, Truex’s thoughts remain on getting back to Victory Lane once more.
“I feel like we have a good thing going, good vibe kind of keep it going,” he said. “I certainly want to step up performance, our team especially. But as everyone mentioned, I felt like we all had opportunities to win races, all of our cars had opportunities to win races, all of our drivers had opportunities. That’s something that’s difficult to do. We want to obviously get back to that point early in the season and hopefully take advantage of those opportunities a little bit better.”