If Sprint Cup Series races were shorter, Martin Truex Jr. might have a few more race wins on his resume.
[media-credit name=”Barry Albert” align=”alignright” width=”300″][/media-credit]Instead the driver of the No. 56 Napa Auto Parts Toyota Camry is pressing onward, waiting for his time to come. It’s not as if his Michael Waltrip Racing team is that far off, entering the Jeff Byrd 500 at Bristol he sat seventh in points and felt momentum was on his side.
Momentum isn’t enough anymore, Truex is hungry for a win. Something he hasn’t experienced since his first career win at Dover in June of 2007. There have been many races with close but no cigar moments. They have been dominating performances but frustrating results. He’s switched teams and manufacturers but it still hasn’t led to victory lane.
It has led Truex to openly admit his expectations of racing and winning at the Cup level were off.
“No, I didn’t think it would be as difficult,” he said Friday.
“I’ve been in position to win a lot more races than one and we just haven’t closed the deal. Obviously, the last few years have been pretty difficult. The first couple went pretty well and we fought for wins a lot. Then we went through two really crazy transition years. Then last year was a new deal for me.”
Truex won the 2004-2005 Nationwide Series championship. Moving to Cup in 2006 paid off early as he was just as competitive as the rest. His more impressive runs included winning the then Nextel Open in 2007 to advance to the All-Star race. A month later he scored his first official Cup win.
That year also brought a spot in the Chase and a finish of 11th in points. In 2009 he won the pole for the Daytona 500 before then announcing he was leaving for MWR.
Truex left a then merged Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing in 2009 after feeling second fiddle to Juan Pablo Montoya. It’s been a hard adjustment going from the NNS with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and being a weekly contender to trying to find his place. Even if there have been bright spots.
“We had the speed last year,” Truex said.
“We had a chance at winning a few races, especially at the end of the season when we got our program going the right direction. It’s just been kind of difficult.”
The 2010 season finale in Homestead was another great race for Truex. He led 62 laps and had Carl Edwards believing the No. 56 could be the driver to beat for the win. A flat tire ruined those chances and Truex finished 11th as Edwards won.
“It’s been hard for me because I’ve won championships and I’ve won races in everything I’ve ever run,” said Truex.
“To go three seasons or so without seeing victory lane again has been difficult. You have to keep working hard, focus on the things you know you can do better and try to be a team player — all those things. It’s been hard, but I know the next win isn’t far — it’s just around the corner.”
If that’s true that corner could have been any of the past few races. Such as the Daytona 500 where Truex felt he could have been the man in the winner’s circle. It was a race where he again led early, 17 laps, but finished 19th at day’s end.
Truex does feel as though his team is heading in the right direction but knows they need to get all the bad out of the way before they can be first to the finish line.
Bristol was not one of those days.
Upon asserting himself near the front of the field early in the going, Truex flexed his muscle. On lap 92 he caught and drove past eventual winner Kyle Busch for the lead and was then able to drive away from the competition and then hold them off in what appeared to be an easy first half of the Jeff Byrd 500.
By days end though, just as it has happened many times before, the laps he racked up didn’t come with the finish it deserved. At Bristol he led 63 total laps and left with a disappointing 17th place finish.
“We got extremely loose at the midpoint of the race and finally got it pretty good at the end,” said Truex.
“But, we smoked the right rear tire off racing Marcos Ambrose. We’ll have to work on our car a little bit to figure out what we need to do to stay up front. We were pretty darn good in the beginning and it was nice to lead all those laps. We just have some work to do.”
According to Truex when the track finally started to get some rubber built into it, that’s when the handling on his machine went away. With it so did another great chance at a victory.
The finish dropped Truex to 10th in points after only four races. Positives taken away come in knowing they’re capable of running up front with the likes of Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch.
Next the Napa team will know how to win the race in the last 100-200 miles instead of the first.