Truex embraces team concept fully

Despite his three-year tenure and record of leading the team’s efforts on-track, Martin Truex Jr. bristles a bit when you asked him about being the face of Michael Waltrip Racing.

He’s ninth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship standings as the circuit arrives in Kentucky for Saturday night’s race and was a top-five fixture in the rankings for much of the early season, starring in a team-highlight reel of qualifying and top-10 showings.

Yet for all his hard work and successful efforts, Truex’s only visits to Victory Lane with MWR have been to congratulate teammates – former MWR driver David Reutimann last season and team newbie Clint Bowyer Sunday when he hoisted the trophy in Sonoma, Calif.

“I thought it was really cool for the team and how could I not be happy for Clint,’’ Truex told this week. “We’ve all been close this year and to finally get MWR in the win column was huge.

“We work together. We truly are one team with three cars and the better one of us runs, the better all of us runs.”

Truex says he’s only one face at MWR.

“There is no lead driver," he said. "I don’t feel any more pressure than anyone else. And I feel like the way things have gone for us, we will get to Victory Lane soon. For sure.’’

Truex’s last – and only – Cup win came in 2007 at the New Jersey native’s “home” track, Dover International Speedway, when he was driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc. Since then, the two-time Nationwide Series champ has garnered headlines winning the pole for the Daytona 500 (2009) and scoring a pair of runner-up finishes (Bristol Motor Speedway in 2011 and Kansas Speedway in 2012).

Statistically and otherwise, however, 2012 has been the true breakout season for Truex in NASCAR’s marquee series.

He’s been ranked among the top six for 11 weeks of the 16-race season to date, including a career-best second spot in the Sprint Cup points standings following his runner-up finish in Kansas, where he led a race-best 173 laps.

He’s got eight top-10 finishes in 16 races and would have had another Sunday in California had he not been punted on the last lap, leaving him with a 22nd-place finish.

He’s led six races and his 318 laps out front is fifth-best in the series at the moment. But like Jeff Gordon, who is also ranked among the top-five with 421 laps in first, Truex is still winless.

“It’s a tough act to balance whether to be aggressive and go for the win in some cases, because obviously the Chase (for the Sprint Cup) is what’s it’s all about,’’ Truex said. “We’d be happy to be in a little better (points) position than we are right now; we’ve been caught up in a few wrecks the last few weeks. But we still feel so competitive. Coming in this year, after the way we finished last season, I feel honestly we could go anywhere and win.

“There have been days when we ran fourth, fifth or sixth and were disappointed. That’s a definite change from the way we were going about things. We are a lot pickier about our performance now because we can be.”

Like Dale Earnhardt Jr., who broke a four-year winless streak at Michigan earlier this month, Truex feels that another victory is only a matter of time now that he’s consistently running up front.

“When I went to Michael Waltrip Racing in 2010 we weren’t consistently up front,” he said. “So it’s really neat to be a part of the organization as it’s stepped up the performance and evolved to the next level.’’