Truex seeking more than 'small victories'

ASSOCIATED PRESS Martin Truex Jr. finished a season's best sixth place at Dover.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Martin Truex Jr. finished a season's best sixth place at Dover.
Posted: June 06, 2014

MARTIN TRUEX JR. is only 33, but the New Jersey native has been racing long enough to know that progress in the sport is often measured through "small victories."

"In racing, 80 percent of your days are disappointments," he said before Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Dover, Del., where he finished a season-best sixth. "We're all here to win, but the fact is, you can't win every week. You get used to that. You learn to have small victories.

"[At Charlotte], we went from running really bad at the All-Star race to, in 1 week's time, transformed the car into running up front. That's a small victory."

Halfway through the 600-mile race at Charlotte, Truex was fifth. Then a mechanical problem late in the race doomed his No. 78 Chevrolet to a 25th-place finish.

Truex will carry his Dover finish and the good run at Charlotte into Pocono on Sunday. In 16 Pocono starts, his best finishes are two thirds, the latest 2 years ago. He's led only 11 laps in all those starts, but he's completed all but one lap. He figures if he can hang around the top 10 until late in the race Sunday, he has a chance to win.

Situated 25th in points, Truex could use a victory. Drivers who win one Cup race likely will be in the Chase, provided they are in the top 30 in points. Thirteen races remain before the Chase.

Kurt Busch raised the bar for the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team last year when he became the first single-car team driver to qualify for the Chase (he finished 10th).

Truex said his expectations for his first year with the Denver-based team are "a lot better than we're doing."

"We haven't be able to gain any momentum," he said. "At Charlotte, we ran up front all night long and then, with nine laps to go, the car breaks. It's been that way all year: Every time we've had really good speed and had a good run going, something bad has happened. All you can do is just keep trying. We know one good weekend can change everything."

Before qualifying at Dover, during practice, Truex hit a bird, causing some slight damage on the front of his car.

"What's next, something falling out of the sky?" he asked in exasperation.

Truex is counting on an experienced team, led by crew chief Todd Berrier, to steer him toward victory lane soon. Berrier was Kurt Busch's crew chief last year.

"On certain weekends, we have figured it out," Truex said. "The new rules this year kind of threw us off," Truex said, referring to rules changes regarding adjustments in chassis and aerodynamics, including bigger rear spoilers to add more downforce, that are designed to create more passing and side-by-side racing.

"We were a little confused on what direction to go with the setups. We're slowly catching up."

The previous 4 years, Truex drove for Michael Waltrip Racing. Last year, he gained his second career Cup victory, at Sonoma, Calif., and compiled six other top-five finishes, winding up 16th in points. Truex qualified for the Chase, but Waltrip Racing was penalized by NASCAR for some late-race shenanigans in the regular-season finale at Richmond. Ryan Newman replaced Truex in the Chase. The controversy led NAPA, Truex' sponsor, to withdraw from NASCAR.

Truex treats Dover as his home track, but also said he enjoys his two summer visits to the Poconos.

"I love that part of the country," the Mayetta, Ocean County, native said. "We used to snowboard there when I was a kid. We've got some friends up there [and] I've gone fishing there."

Truex is among several Cup series drivers needing a victory to almost guarantee a Chase appearance. Points leader Matt Kenseth is still winless this season, as are other previous Chasers Ryan Newman, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart.

Said Biffle: "I'm looking forward to Pocono. It's been an up and down track for us, but with the new repave, I've liked it a lot better and we've done a lot better.

"We're struggling with our cars right now, and we are struggling to get them to turn. We are looking for speed, and hopefully a high-speed place like Pocono will play into our hands a bit. We'll try and knock off a top-five finish and get ourselves back towards the front."

Top-five finish? Biffle and the others need wins. Maybe Biffle is looking forward to the following race at Michigan, where he is a four-time winner.

This week's race

Pocono 400

Pocono Raceway, Long Pond, Pa.

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: TNT/WNPV (1440-AM)

Course: 2.5-mile tri-oval

Distance: 160 laps/400 miles

Forecast: partly cloudy, high 70s

Last year’s winner: Jimmie Johnson

Last year’s pole: Points leader Johnson started on the pole after qualifying was rained out.

Track qualifying record: Johnson, 180.654 mph (August 2013)

Track facts: Johnson led 128 laps, including the 31, to win last year’s race. Greg Biffle was second; Dale Earnhardt Jr. was third. Johnson is a three-time winner at Pocono. Ryan Newman led the second-most laps, 19 and finished fifth ... Jeff Gordon’s record five wins at Pocono cover a span from 1996 to 2012. Denny Hamlin has four wins at the track ... Kasey Kahne won last August’s race at Pocono; it was his most recent victory ... Carl Edwards’ win in 2005 from the 29th starting position is the deepest in the field a Pocono winner has started ... An 80-lap ARCA series race is scheduled for Saturday at 1 p.m.

Wins: Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, 2 each; Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, 1 each.

POINTS

1. Matt Kenseth 463

2. Jeff Gordon 461

3. Carl Edwards 438

4. Jimmie Johnson 436

5. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 429

6. Joey Logano 414

7. Kyle Busch 411

8. Brad Keselowski 404

9. Denny Hamlin 379

10. Kyle Larson 377

11. Ryan Newman 374

12. Kevin Harvick 373

13. Brian Vickers 366

14. Paul Menard 362

15. Austin Dillon 358

16. Greg Biffle 357

Up next: Quicken Loans 400, June 15, Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn, Mich., 1 p.m.; TV: TNT; last year's winner: Greg Biffle.


Email: fleiscb@phillynews.com

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