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.
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.
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.
Sunday, 1 p.m.
500 laps/263 miles
Mostly cloudy, 60 degrees
none, inclement weather; starting field determined by points
Tony Stewart, 98.083 mph (October 2005)
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.
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