Monday, September 3, 2012

Truex Ready to Join NASCAR's Elite

Martin Truex, Jr., is ready to join NASCAR's elite along with MWR, NAPA
There’s a reason Martin Truex, Jr., was signed last week to a new three-year contract by Michael Waltrip Racing and sponsor NAPA.
He’s on the verge of a breakthrough.  It may not happen this year, but the No. 56 NAPA Toyota is about the join the ranks of the NASCAR elite.
Truex should have won at Atlanta Sunday night.  After starting 28th, he raced to the front and had it well in hand until a late race caution sent it into a green-white-checkers finish.  A slightly quicker pit stop for Denny Hamlin gave him the perferred line on the restart.  Truex started second, spun his tires and ended up fourth. 
Currently fifth in points, Truex is one of only two drivers headed for The Chase without a win this year, Kevin Harvick being the other.  But Truex knows the team is due for a breakthrough. 
"We're right there,” he said after renewing his deal with Michael Waltrip Racing (MWR).  “We've been close; we've been capable of winning races all year long. We just haven't finished the deal. We've run second a bunch of times and we've had the car to beat two or three races and we didn't do everything right. It takes a lot of things to go your way to win a race. On the days where we've had the fastest car out there, we didn't have the cautions go our way or maybe pit strategy or the way the cycles went, but we've had the speed and we've got the team that's capable of doing it for sure. For now, it's just a matter of getting that first one out of the way and quit worrying about it and go after a bunch of them.”
 Hamlin knew he was fortunate to beat Truex.
“Circumstances just fell our way at the end,” Hamlin said.  “When you start to falter and fade, you’ve got to have another aspect of the team that picks you up, and today it was the pit crew. They won us this race today. We’re very blessed for that. I’m 70 percent happy for me and 30 percent sad for Michael Waltrip and Martin because I know they’ve come so close.”
Truex traces his team’s turnaround back to early in the 2011 season when not much seemed to be going right.  But Waltrip made commitments to Toyota and its sponsors to improve in 2012.  It entered into an association with Joe Gibbs Racing to share technology and added Clint Boyer, Mark Martin and Brian Vickers to boost its driver ranks.
“Ever since, we've been on an awesome road to improvement,” Truex said.  “With those guys integrating me into the team and giving me some say and making me feel like I'm part of something, has probably been one of the coolest and proudest moments of my life."
Slipping and sliding:  Atlanta saw the continuation of a theme covered here last week, Hamlin moving forward while Tony Stewart continues to slide backward.  Although Stewart qualified on the pole, he slipped back during the race and eventually finished four laps behind in 22nd.  He’s now in danger of falling out of the Top 10 in points, although his three wins will keep him in The Chase. 
Even worse for Stewart, sponsor Office Depot announced before the race it won’t be back next year, the second major Stewart Haas Racing sponsor to quit the sport, the U.S. Army having already announced its withdrawal.  Office Depot was the team’s primary sponsor for 22 of 38 races this year and that leaves a big hole for the team.  Combined with the Army pullout, SHR basically needs to find a full season sponsorship for one car, a major task in today’s economic climate. 
Contrast that with NAPA, which is one of the few sponsors that will be the primary sponsor in every race next year.  NAPA obviously doesn't want to miss an part of the breakout year.

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