Bill Fleischman: Truex eager to end NASCAR drought

No one to has remind Martin Truex Jr. it's been a long time since his only Sprint Cup victory. Truex prevailed in the spring race at Dover International Speedway in 2007 on his way to his only Chase for the Championship appearance (11th-place finish).

"It's been way too long. It's killing me, but I'm working harder now than I ever have," Truex said on a Tuesday conference call. "I thought it would be easier after the first [win]. I've been in position to win a lot of races since 2007. It just hasn't been meant to be."

In his second season driving the No. 56 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, Truex is tied for 13th in points despite posting only one top-10 finish. Early in Sunday's race at California, the Mayetta, N.J., native was running second.

"We went from 26th to second, and I was thinking, 'This is awesome, my car's really good,' " Truex said. "But I was worried because I'm running the top [of the track] and [the car] is already almost against the wall. In 100 laps, there's not going to be any grip up here. What am I going to do?"

What he did was finish 21st.

"The last 2 weeks have been a bit frustrating as far as finishing goes," he said. "Our cars have a lot of speed. It's just a matter of us figuring out the details."

Truex' crew chief is Malvern native Pat Tryson.

Although Truex was a disappointing 22nd in the points standings last year, he concluded the season on a positive note, leading the second-most laps (62) in the season finale at Homestead, Fla., before finishing 11th.

"For us it was a big [boost]," Truex said. "We had a tough season, especially from the middle toward the end. It [transitioned] into the start of this season."

In 10 career starts at Martinsville, site of Sunday's race, Truex has only one top-five finish and two top 10s.

Truex' younger brother, Ryan, a rookie in the Nationwide Series, is recuperating from wrist surgery.

"He broke his wrist 2 years ago, but didn't know it was broken," Martin said. "It started bothering him lately. When he had it checked out [doctors] said, 'It ought to hurt, it's broken in two pieces.' "

Ryan chose this week for surgery because there's no Nationwide race this weekend. He'll be back in the No. 99 Toyota at Texas on April 8.

 

'The Closer' strikes again

 

About two-thirds of the way through Sunday's Cup race at California, I noted "terrible racing: one car high on the track, one car low, just riding around and around."

Then, thankfully, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson provided a compelling finish. With three laps to go, Johnson seized the lead from Kyle Busch, who led 151 of the 200 laps. Then, on the final lap, Harvick passed Johnson. If you lead only one lap in a race, the last lap is the right one.

Harvick has made four winning last-lap passes in the past 5 years. No wonder they call him "The Closer."

His win made him the fifth driver to win this season, in five races. The last time that happened was 2005.

Moving on to Martinsville Sunday, the venerable Virginia track is not one of Harvick's favorites. In 19 starts at Martinsville, he has only one top-five finish and eight top 10s.

Note to the good folks at Pocono Raceway: California was a much better race at 400 miles rather than the previous 500 milers.

 

Martin's 800th start

 

Come Sunday, Mark Martin, 52, will become the eighth driver with 800 career starts.

Martin's 40 career wins rank 16th all-time. When Martin won the April 2009 race at Phoenix, he became only the fourth 50-and-over driver to win a Cup race. The others are Harry Gant, Morgan Shepherd and Bobby Allison. Martin has won twice at Martinsville.

 

GOODY'S FAST PAIN RELIEF 500

Martinsville Speedway

Martinsville, Va.

When:

Sunday, 1 p.m.

 

TV/Radio:

Fox/WNPV (1440-AM)

 

Race course:

.526-mile oval

 

Race distance:

500 laps/263 miles

 

Forecast:

Mostly cloudy, 60 degrees

 

Last year's winner:

Denny Hamlin

 

Last year's pole winner:

none, inclement weather; starting field determined by points

 

Track qualifying record:

Tony Stewart, 98.083 mph (October 2005)

 

Track facts:

Denny Hamlin has won three consecutive Cup races at Martinsville; he has four wins overall at the track. If he wins Sunday, he and Fred Lorenzen (1963-65) will be the only drivers with four consecutive wins at Martinsville . . . Jeff Gordon's seven wins at the track top active drivers. Teammate Jimmie Johnson has six W's . . . Hamlin led the most laps (172) in winning last year's race. Joey Logano was runner-up; Jeff Gordon was third . . . With Ryan Newman second in points, this is the highest he's been ranked since he won the Daytona 500 in 2008 . . . Weird stat: Rookie Andy Lally has finished 32nd three consecutive weeks . . . Jeffrey Earnhardt, grandson of the late Dale Earnhardt, resolved his differences with owner Rick Ware and will race in the Camping World truck race Saturday at Martinsville. Ware had alleged that Earnhardt, 21, was trying to take the team's sponsor to another team.

 

POINTS LEADERS

 

Carl Edwards, 187

Ryan Newman, 178

Kurt Busch, 177

Kyle Busch, 176

Jimmie Johnson, 173

Tony Stewart, 170

Paul Menard, 164

Juan Montoya, 161

Kevin Harvick, 157

Matt Kenseth, 157

Kasey Kahne, 157

Dale Earnhardt Jr., 156

Martin Truex Jr., 147

Mark Martin, 147

A.J. Allmendinger, 137

Jeff Gordon, 130

Clint Bowyer, 122

Bobby Labonte, 121

Marcus Ambrose, 121

Greg Biffle, 119

 

UP NEXT

 

Samsung Mobile 500, April 9, Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth, Texas, 7:30 p.m.; TV: Fox; last year's winner: Denny Hamlin.