After a Slow Start, Martin Truex Jr. Ready To Make a Run at The Chase

Jordan McGrawContributor IMay 7, 2010

RICHMOND, VA - APRIL 30:  Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #56 NAPA Toyota prepares to drive during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series CROWN ROYAL Presents the Heath Calhoun 400 at Richmond International Raceway on April 30, 2010 in Richmond, Virginia.  (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images

David Reutimann was once known as “The Franchise” at Michael Waltrip Racing.

He earned that nickname by becoming the very first winner ever for owner Michael Waltrip in the Sprint Cup Series.

After one season, however, it would seem that name has been passed on.

A newcomer at MWR, Martin Truex Jr. is officially now their franchise.

Truex, the successor to Waltrip in his NAPA Auto Parts Camry, has been nothing short of stout this season.

With four top ten finishes, Truex currently sits 14th in points. While that leaves him sitting outside the cutoff for NASCAR’s 12 man Chase for the Sprint Cup, he’s only 17 points behind 12th place Clint Bowyer.

If not for a three-race stretch at the beginning of the season where the No. 56 team finished 39th, 20th, and 27th, Truex would be safely within the cutoff.

Regardless, it’s a giant step forward from where the NAPA team was last season with Waltrip behind the wheel.

Truex has finished 12th or better in five out of the last six races, including a fifth place showing at Martinsville. The team’s worst finish in that span was a 17th place run at Phoenix.

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During that time frame, Truex has scored the sixth most points out of any driver. He’s scored more points than eight of the drivers in front of him in the standings.

Long story short, Truex is on fire right now. The fact that he’s flying under the radar makes him even more dangerous.

A major component in Truex’s recent success has been the addition of new crew chief Pat Tryson.

Last season, Tryson led Kurt Busch to two wins and a fourth place finish in the final standings before leaving Penske Racing for Waltrip’s organization.

After a strong showing by the No. 56 Camry at the season-opening Daytona 500, where Truex battled for the lead late and came home seventh, it was evident that the learning curve driver and crew chief needed for each other wasn’t going to be that steep.

Now, 10 races into their first season together, Tryson and Truex are already legitimate Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders.

They’re also having fun together.

Together, they’ve created the “Tried and TrueX” campaign. With its clever name, the objective of the campaign is to get fans to vote the No. 56 Camry into the All-Star race should they not win a points-paying race or the Sprint Showdown.

If the team continues to run as well as they have been, they may not need the campaign, even with only two races left before All-Star weekend.

A weekend from now, they travel to Dover, where Truex is a former winner. This weekend, however, is a horse of a different color.

Black, to be exact.

This weekend, the stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be competing at Darlington Raceway in Saturday night’s Showtime Southern 500.

Known affectionately (and sometimes not so affectionately) as “The Track Too Tough to Tame” and “The Lady in Black,” Darlington is a track unlike any other.

Forcing drivers to ride inches from the wall in order to be fast, the “Darlington Stripe” acquired by brushing the track’s barriers is more of a symbol of honor than a sign of overdriving the car.

In fact, hitting the wall is so common, teams used to put wooden panels in the side of the car so that, once the car inevitably hit the wall, the sides wouldn’t be pushed in and the car would stay aerodynamically sound.

This is where Truex’s 16-race run to the Chase begins.

And while the Lady in Black always commands respect, Truex is undaunted by her.

“What I like about Darlington,” said Truex of the track, “it’s one of the most challenging tracks on the circuit. I really, really like it. It is really a fun place to race. I have had some great runs there.

“I haven’t won there, but I feel like some of my best performances as a driver have come at that track. It really challenges you as a driver. You really have to be up on the wheel and concentrate all day and all night long.”

At first glance, Truex’s numbers at Darlington seem rather pedestrian, with only one career top ten at the track.

However, a second glance reveals that he has never finished worse than 14th at the track. His consistently currently ranks him fifth in average finishing position among drivers entered into Saturday’s race, and third among drivers with at least four starts.

That ranks Truex higher than the last four-race winners at Darlington, including seven-time winner Jeff Gordon.

In other words, expect Truex to be strong under the lights Saturday night.

His one top ten finish at Darlington came last season. He led 61 laps en route to finishing sixth.

Not bad for a driver in a ride he would be leaving at the end of the season.

Now, Martin Truex Jr. has a fresh slate, a talented crew chief, and an obviously improved race team.

The future is bright for No. 56 NAPA Camry, and it truly begins this weekend at "The Track Too Tough to Tame.”

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