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2012 Ride: No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
2012 Primary Sponsors: NAPA (35 Races), Carlyle Tools (one race)
2012 Owner: Michael Waltrip
2012 Crew Chief: Chad Johnston
Stats: 36 Starts, 0 Wins, 7 Top 5s, 19 Top 10s, 11th in points.
Best finish: 2nd, twice (Kansas).
Average finish: 12.1.
2012 Team Ranking: 2nd of 3 teams. After running right on pace with Clint Bowyer at the start of the season, Truex Jr. couldn’t match his teammate in the second half, especially in the Chase, where Bowyer finished second.
High Point: Kansas in April. Truex Jr. dominated at the 1.5-mile track, leading a race-high 173 laps, but lost in a duel with Denny Hamlin late and had to settle for second. With his early-season performances (3rd at Bristol, 5th at Martinsville, 6th at Texas and 2nd at Kansas), it looked like Truex Jr. was going to be carrying the Michael Waltrip Racing banner in 2012 as the organization made the leap from mid-level to upper echelon.
Low Point: Atlanta in September. This could be argued as a high point, too, but I categorize at as low point because of Truex’s reaction after leading 40 laps late in the race before a caution changed the complexion of the event. Truex Jr. clearly wanted to break his long losing streak at the home track of primary sponsor NAPA, but once again couldn’t close the door on a potential win.
Summary: Truex Jr. made The Chase for only the second time in his career, but his season-ending result wasn’t any better than the first time around. Both times he ended the season in 11th, never a factor to compete for a championship.
Truex Jr. did make strides, much like Michael Waltrip Racing as a whole did in 2012. He went from three top 5s in 2011 to seven in 2012, and from 12 top 10s to 19. Truex Jr. also significantly improved his average finish, a sign that he improved his overall consistency.
There were many positives for Truex Jr. in 2012, but he still didn’t crack the win column. His only Sprint Cup victory came driving for then Dale Earnhardt Incorporated at Dover in 2007. That was 203 races ago, and while Truex Jr’s confidence has to be up after a competitive season, he still has the weight of one of the series’ longest losing streaks resting on his shoulders as he heads to 2013.
Off-Track News: Despite not visiting Victory Lane, Michael Waltrip Racing and NAPA signed a three-year extension with the driver in August.
2013 Outlook: Truex Jr. needs to find a way to win a race early in the season to get the monkey off his back, and to help get the No. 56 in The Chase. If he goes winless again in the first 26 races, he may end up on the outside looking in on the playoffs in 2013. Michael Waltrip Racing has become a competitive organization week-in and-week-out and it’s time for Truex Jr. to take advantage.
2011 Frontstretch.com Grade: C.
2012 Grade: B.
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