Before breaking into the Monster Energy Cup Series, Martin Truex Jr. set the world on fire in the XFINITY Series.
Truex kicked off his first full-time XFINITY season in the No. 8 Chance 2 Motorsports Chevrolet, earning the victory in the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. A handful of races later, he won once again at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Three races after his second win came Talladega Superspeedway, the first trip to the 2.66-mile track for Truex.
That race was special for multiples reasons. Not only was it Truex’s first ever race at Talladega, but his car owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., pushed him to his third victory of the year.
As Earnhardt is set to retire from full-time Monster Energy Series racing at the end of 2017, the spring Talladega race weekend was the perfect time to reflect on the incredible moment.
Ahead of Sunday’s GEICO 500, FOXSports.com caught up with Truex as he reflected on that special race and his friendship with Earnhardt.
Truex and Earnhardt were up front all day in the 2004 Aaron’s 312. But Truex remembered it wasn't an easy task.
“Somehow we got separated,” Truex said. “We had been running up front and he was staying behind me the whole time. It was really hard to pass the leader then. But at some point, the pack got on us and he went to the outside to block them and we got separated.”
Earnhardt then keyed up the radio in a panic.
“I remember him switching over to my radio to tell me, ‘I can’t hold them off, I’m going up high to block ‘em,’” Truex remembered. “That was pretty cool. He definitely helped me out that day, for sure.”
“He was my car owner and teacher in that race,” Truex added. “It was the first time I had ever been here (Talladega). Honestly, there was no possible way I would have won that race if he wasn’t in it. Short of winning himself, I think that was the next best thing to have me win. Not because he’s my car owner, but he was in the race with me.”
Truex won back-to-back XFINITY championships in 2004 and 2005. But before all the trophies really started to roll in, Truex was unphased by the difficulty of Talladega because he was confident in his team and legendary car owner.
“I wasn’t nervous,” Truex said. “We had already won that year. We were running up front a lot and had a lot of confidence. Coming here for the first time and expect to win his kind of silly. It’s so different than what we normally do. It was definitely crazy.”
After reflecting on that special day in 2004, Truex discussed his thoughts on how his fellow competitor, friend and hunting buddy will impact the sport during retirement.
“He’ll be a huge part of it,” Truex said. “He loves racing. He’s active in a lot of things in racing off the track-- the NASCAR Drivers’ Council, trying to help NASCAR make decisions on rules and making the experience better for the fans. All those kinds of things. I think he’s really involved in the sport, not just on the driving side. I think expect that will continue.”
“He’s going to be around a lot. I don’t think he’ll be around as much as Richard Petty is,” Truex said jokingly. “You think of The King and what he meant to the sport. We still see him around every single weekend. He’s still a car owner. I really think Dale will be similar. He’s going to always be a part of this. He has his XFINITY teams. He has a ton of friends in this garage. He’s going to be around.”
Getty ImagesWill Schneekloth
Truex is one of many drivers who have been helped by Earnhardt at some point.
“He’s given so many people countless opportunities in this sport, whether it’s drivers, crew members, you name it,” Truex said. “Especially young guys like me. When I met him, he had TJ Majors he met racing online. He was racing a late model for him. He moved to North Carolina and now he’s his spotter. You look at Keselowski and some of the bigger names that have come through. If you walk through the garage, you’ll meet a ton of them.”