Jim Salisbury | Good ol' Jersey boy takes the flag

Posted: June 05, 2007

DOVER, Del. - Martin Truex Jr. earned one of the coolest trophies in sports (and $295,000) by winning the Autism Speaks 400 at Dover International Speedway yesterday.

Now, if he could just get his hands on some Eagles season tickets.

That's right, the newest winner on the NASCAR Nextel Cup circuit is a South Jersey guy who loves the team in midnight green.

"No," Truex Jr. said with a laugh when asked if he was an Eagles season-ticket holder. "But I wish I was."

Even his father would like to get in on the action at the Linc.

"I'd sure like to have some," Martin Truex Sr. said. "Right on the 50-yard line. We're all big Eagles fans. Coming from South Jersey, who wouldn't be? Maybe now, Martin can get season tickets and I can borrow from him."

The Truex men are serious about their racing, but they were in a playful mood as the clouds cleared and the sun came out down on Victory Lane at the Monster Mile late in the afternoon.

Their happiness was understandable. This was the 26-year-old Truex's first Cup Series win, the realization of a lifetime dream for this racing family from Mayetta, down by the Jersey Shore. And that it happened two hours from home made it all that much sweeter.

"I love this track," Truex Jr. said. "It's my favorite one by far. I've always felt comfortable here. . . . I always can't wait for the race here to come up. I can't wait till September already."

Dad was just happy to savor this one.

"This is what you work your whole life for," he said as he watched his son pose with the monster-shaped hunk of rock that is awarded to the winner.

Truex Sr., a partner in Sea Watch International, a seafood company, is a longtime veteran of the race game. Six years ago, he gave up his seat in the Busch North Series so his up-and-coming son could gain experience.

Truex Jr., who started racing go-karts in 1991, first ran at Dover in a Busch Series race in 2001. He won Busch races there in September 2004 and June 2005 en route to winning that circuit's championship. After the 2005 title, he was recruited to the powerhouse Dale Earnhardt Inc. team by none other than Dale Earnhardt Jr.

As a Nextel Cup rookie last year, Truex Jr.'s best finish was second, in the final race of the year in Homestead, Fla.

The impressive victory yesterday - he twice chased down pole-sitter Ryan Newman after restarts with less than 70 laps to go - had significance even beyond the personal for Truex Jr.

DEI has been engulfed by turmoil this season as its signature driver, Earnhardt Jr., has decided to split with the team that was founded by his late father and is now run by his stepmother.

Earnhardt Jr. is a free agent of A-Rod magnitude, with rumors floating that he will join Joe Gibbs Racing next season. If DEI needed something to feel good about, Truex Jr. provided it yesterday, in his 58th Cup race.

"People think DEI is just going to go away because Junior is leaving," Truex Jr. said. "Junior has been a great mentor to me, but we can go on.

"I'm happy for all the guys at the shop. They've heard and read a lot of stuff recently. It feels good to hush up all that and solidify the fact that we're here and ready to try to win championships in the future."

Truex Jr. is signed with DEI through next year, when he will be the team's featured driver.

"I know I'll have to show more leadership," he said. "Somebody's got to do it. A lot of people look up to Dale Jr. there."

As much as Truex Jr. loves Dover, he didn't have a great feeling Friday when he qualified 26th.

What a difference a day made. Crew chief Kevin Manion and his wrenches made some tweaks to the car, and by the end of practice Saturday, Truex Jr. was telling folks that it felt like a winner.

"Everything came together," said his father, who watched the race from the top of the pit box.

What was it like up there?

"Pretty nerve-racking," he said.

Imagine what it was like in the driver's seat, especially with last year's Cup champ, the redoubtable Jimmie Johnson, in the rearview mirror with less than 40 laps to go. Johnson ended up blowing a tire and falling out of contention. From there, it was smooth sailing for the guy from the Jersey Shore.

He got his first win and took home the cool trophy.

Now, if he could just get those Eagles season tickets.


Jim Salisbury |

Inside

NASCAR's new car makes a successful debut at Dover. C3.

Bill France dies at 74. C3.


Contact staff writer Jim Salisbury at 215-854-4983 or jsalisbury@phillynews.com.

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