Truex recaptures glory with strong start
Martin Truex Jr. feels a win coming.
“We’re going to get one soon,” said Truex, who won his second Texas Motor Speedway NASCAR Sprint Cup pole on Friday with a lap of 190.369 mph.
“I can’t even explain it. I’ve been blessed to have the team I have, to be in the position that I’m in.
“It makes you think back to those days that weren’t going so well and saying, ‘Heck yeah! I worked my butt off and got through it.’ Of course, we’re not there yet. We still have work to do.”
For all intents and purposes, Truex hasn’t had a good year since 2007 – the only season the driver won a race and qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup in the six full years he’s competed at NASCAR’s top level.
Although it’s his buddy Dale Earnhardt Jr. who receives all the attention for his winless drought of 135 starts, Truex's streak of 173 is the second-longest among drivers competing full time in Sprint Cup. Only Bobby Labonte has started more races (294) without a win.
But team owner Michael Waltrip made a promise here at Texas Motor Speedway last spring to Truex — that Waltrip would turn around the organization. First came the crew-chief change. Chad Johnston was promoted from team engineer before the June race at Pocono.
Not long after, Scott Miller was approached to become vice president of competition. A formal announcement was made regarding Miller’s move from Richard Childress Racing in September.
Then Waltrip recruited superstars Mark Martin and Clint Bowyer to the driver roster. Certainly elevating the talent level at MWR forced Truex to step up, particularly since it’s a contract year for both the driver and sponsor, NAPA.
“You have to look at the two teammates he has now,” Waltrip said. “We brought in Mark — and Mark is the most enthusiastic, appreciative, focused individual I have ever seen. He wants that team to be successful so bad because he wants to say he helped. He wants to be a part of it coming together. Bowyer, he’s crazy. He’s wide-open and drives his car like he is. He’s flying around telling us we have good stuff.
“And Martin Truex has been with us when we didn’t have stuff that we could run consistently with. He knows his stuff is better. We brought our first new car here and it was top 10 (eighth) – then he’s third at Miami. We’ve given him stuff he can smile about. He has teammates that are happy to be there. He has what he needs now.”
So when Truex prognosticated prior to qualifying that he was going to bring home the Turnbull Rifle awarded to the pole sitter, Waltrip wasn’t surprised.
“He was determined and he went and got it done,” Waltrip said.
In many ways, this season feels like 2008 for Truex, not 2012. It’s sad in some ways that the competitor feels as if four years of his career were lost during the transition of the final days of Dale Earnhardt Inc., coupled with the transition of DEI to Earnhardt Ganassi Racing and then finally his move to MWR. But he finds hope in the prospect of his reinvented No. 56 NAPA team.
"It's been a work in progress,” Truex said. “Everybody has put a lot of effort into it. And me, I feel like I've put a lot of effort into getting to where we're at as a team. For me, it's very gratifying. The contract situation and all that stuff, has not really entered my mind much. I've really just been having a lot of fun with my team.
“I've got a great bunch of guys. I've really enjoyed working with Chad, my crew chief, and watching him come into his own. He's really getting a lot of confidence in his decisions. The things he's been able to do are showing. He's really growing as a crew chief. It's been a lot of fun just to come to the racetrack each week and work with him and just to see the progress of the team and the excitement around the shop during the week. (Team owners) Rob (Kauffman) and Michael have been really happy with how the program has went.
“It's just rewarding to be part of the program — kind of helping to build it to where it is now and being able to go out there and get results."
Now if predicting a victory is as easy for Truex as winning the pole, he might think about changing professions from driver to fortune teller.
From the drawing board
Last Tuesday and Wednesday, five drivers participated in a tire test on the newly repaved Michigan International Speedway.
The result? Speeds topping 215 miles per hour.
In addition to the obvious speed, two-time MIS winner Jeff Gordon was encouraged by the promise “of multiple grooves” on the track.
Michigander Brad Keselowski described the exercise as “a great test.” He was complimentary of the job MIS performed in repaving the two-mile track and allowing the surface to cure over the winter.
“When we got on the racetrack, there was zero break-in time to the surface, which is critical,” Keselowski said. “When we come there in June, everyone can just go out there and run.
“We saw (at) Phoenix where (they) had to rush their repave and, in the process, it required some additional steps to make the facility to where you can even run without tearing the pavement up.”
Keselowski also felt that he and his fellow competitors, including Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Juan Pablo Montoya, “were on the same page” when it came to offering feedback on the control tire.
“Goodyear built a tire that has a pretty good level of grip,” Keselowski said. “We’d like to see some more fall off in it, but with the speeds being so high, the last thing we’d like to see is a tire that wears out, blows out and you hit the wall at 200-some miles per hour. I can understand the approach of being a little bit conservative with it.
“That race in general is just going to be such a wild-card race, I don’t think that anyone knows what to expect. I expect it to be exciting either way.”
With storms predicted for this weekend, drivers already were experiencing the effects of Mother Nature long before the cars were on the track on Friday.
Jamie McMurray says the wind was so fierce that it shook his motor coach Thursday night and woke him up. During Happy Hour and qualifying, Jeff Gordon says the wind is the same for everyone – unless a big gust hits a car at an inopportune moment. The four-time champ, who won this race in 2009, says the wind “makes the balance of the car tough” because conditions are different at the ends of the racetrack.
“The wind is definitely affecting things out there right now, there’s no doubt,” Gordon said. “You have a headwind all the way down the front straightaway. As you turn off into Turn 1, it’s putting a lot of downforce in the car, which makes the cars feel really good and comfortable and do all the things you want them to do.
“As you come off of (Turn 2), you start to pick up more of a tailwind, which can upset the cars a little bit. The biggest challenge I find with the direction of the wind right now and the gusts that we’re getting is in (Turns) 3 and 4 as you try to cut through 3 and 4. You have that wind coming over the wall and the condos in (Turns) 1 and 2 and it really hits the racetrack in (Turns) 3 and 4. It really is hard to get the car turned through a crosswind like that."
3: Laps run by Tony Stewart in Happy Hour before wrecking his No. 14 Chevrolet.
3: Ford drivers who topped the speed chart in Happy Hour — Trevor Bayne, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth.
3: Drivers missed the field - David Stremme, Joe Nemechek and Stacy Compton.
Denny Hamlin on his buddy Bubba Watson winning the Masters last Sunday: "Of course that trick shot I taught him on Wednesday paid off on Sunday,” Hamlin joked.
“It's just one of those things where it was an amazing accomplishment for him and his family. I know he struggles with getting nervous down at the end. I could even see it even in the par-three. You step on the first tee and you see the nerves start. So for him to overcome that and battle through and obviously have a great win at the end was great for him, and obviously good for me and my storytelling. It's not too often you get to caddy for the 2012 Masters champ."