Bumpy ride: Martin Truex Jr. looking to find his groove in Vegas

Martin Truex Jr. (78) drives his burning car across the grass after a crash in his Budweiser Duel qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway.

Terry Renna/AP

Martin Truex Jr., like so many other NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers, entered 2014 with extremely high hopes.

After two miserable outings in the first two weeks of the season, Truex is just hoping to catch a break.

In his debut campaign with Furniture Row Racing, which reached the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time last year with Kurt Busch, Truex is 35th in driver points and desperately needs a change in fortunes starting with this weekend’s Kobalt 500 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

As if his poor start to the season isn’t enough incentive to run well, Sunday’s showdown in Sin City will mark a major milestone for Truex as the New Jersey native logs his 300th career start in NASCAR’s top series.

Understandably, Truex is extra motivated to go out and post a solid finish at a track where he has a pair of top-10 finishes in his last three starts, which all came with Michael Waltrip Racing.

Truex is optimistic that his team is getting a better handle on the new 2014 rules package, which includes changes from the 2013 regulations regarding ride heights, splitters, rear spoilers and radiator pans, among other parts.

"Las Vegas will be another good test to see where we are at with the new rules package for the 2014 car," Truex said. "The first two races have not turned out the way we had expected, but we’ve also had some positive signs. It would be nice to look back and remember how successful the 300th start was."

Truex, a two-time Nationwide Series champion, made his first Sprint Cup Series start in October 2004 with Dale Earnhardt Inc., the organization with which he notched his first win in 2007 and competed until its merger with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2009.

Martin Truex Jr. wipes his brow after blowing an engine in the 2014 Daytona 500.

Truex joined Michael Waltrip Racing in 2010, and remained there through last season, when the departure of longtime MWR sponsor, NAPA, forced him to make other arrangements for this season.

Over his 299 Sprint Cup Series starts to date, Truex has posted two wins, 31 top-fives, 90 top-10s, seven poles, and led 1,889 laps.

"I had absolutely no idea that my 300th start is coming up," Truex said. "I’ve been blessed to be with some great race teams and have enjoyed plenty of fond memories. Looking back, it seems like a long time ago that I made my first start, but it really wasn’t. They say when you’re having fun, time flies, and in my case that is so true because I have had an incredible amount of fun over the years."

"Oh yes, absolutely," he said. "I am only 33 and have a lot more years in me. I feel the best is still yet to come as a driver."

Truex, who initially made the Chase last season with MWR before being booted out by NASCAR in the wake of the Richmond controversy, began 2014 on a strong note with his new team by qualifying second for the Daytona 500. But the good feelings quickly evaporated as a wreck in his Budweiser Duel qualifying race forced Truex to drop to the rear of the grid for the 500.

Martin Truex Jr. is 35th in Sprint Cup Series points after two races.

"The setup wasn’t there," said Truex, who struggled to find grip in the corners of the 1-mile track. "The car was tight, then loose. It wouldn’t roll in the center — I mean, nothing worked. We all have these type of days. As far as I am concerned, the race is now in the rearview mirror. Our focus right now is on the Las Vegas race."