NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2009 NASCAR Driver Review: Martin Truex Jr.

Martin Truex Jr.

2009 Ride: No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet
2009 Primary Sponsors: Bass Pro Shops (24 races), Guitar Hero (4 races), TomTom (2 races), GE Reveal (2 races), Rain-X (2 races), Vaseline (2 races)
2009 Owners: Teresa Earnhardt, Chip Ganassi
2009 Crew Chief: Kevin “Bono” Manion
2009 Stats: 36 starts, 0 wins, 1 top five, 6 top 10s, 3 poles, 23rd in points

High Point: When your high point comes in the first race of the year, you know you’re in for a long season. On the bright side, Martin Truex Jr. couldn’t have started off any better by winning the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500. But in a telling sign of things to come, his No. 1 car struggled in the draft during Speedweeks and he wound up leading just one lap during the race, forced to settle for an 11th-place finish that was still one of his better performances of 2009.

Low Point: After leading 61 laps at Darlington in May, Truex wound up sixth and jumped to 19th in points, looking like he’d be ready to contend for the Chase. But team and driver followed up with a career-worst 20-race streak in which the No. 1 car failed to score a top-10 finish. In the process, he went fourteen races without leading a lap while teammate Juan Pablo Montoya ran circles around the competition, putting himself in position to make the playoffs while Truex slumped badly outside the top 25.

Summary: On the eve of the 2009 season, a surprise merger between Dale Earnhardt Inc. and Chip Ganassi caught Truex and his No. 1 team completely by surprise. Suddenly, they were forced to integrate with a brand new team, with two number one drivers in Montoya and Truex forced to work together. The two wildly different personalities never gelled, and information sharing seemed to be their weakness as the No. 1 team fell far behind the successes of the No. 42.

Seeing the writing on the wall, Truex quickly started to look elsewhere for 2010 as both the organization and personnel changed dramatically around him. That additional distraction helped trigger a season-long slump for the team; by the time they got their act together in the final few races of the year, Truex had signed on elsewhere for 2010 and they were merely finishing up as “lame ducks” after just one top-five finish – a career-low for the four-year Sprint Cup veteran. His three poles were the lone highlight in what became a year to forget for everyone involved with the Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet.

Team Ranking: Second. In a year where Montoya came out of his shell, Truex crawled back within his as the No. 1 car clearly played second fiddle all season to the No. 42. It was a tough pill to swallow for the New Jersey native, who stayed at the former DEI in part because he’d be top dawg within their stable for years to come.

Off-Track News: Most of the buzz for the Truex family surrounded Martin’s brother Ryan, who won the Camping World East Series title in an Michael Waltrip Racing-supported car. Truex will run the full CWE slate again in 2010, with hopes to run a limited Nationwide schedule for the team sometime in the near future.

As for the older Truex, he spent the summer as one of the few free agents in a rather small Silly Season pool. After months of being rumored to Stewart-Haas Racing as part of a third team, he chose to go down another path instead, partnering with Michael Waltrip Racing for 2010 and beyond in a deal that was announced in early July.

2010 Outlook: Truex was in need of a fresh start, and he’ll get it driving the NAPA Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing in 2010. Running a number made famous by three generations of Truex racers, he’ll drive the No. 56 and hope to duplicate the recent success of teammates David Reutimann and Marcos Ambrose, both of whom came reasonably close to making the Chase last season.

Helping Truex on top of the pit box will be Pat Tryson, hired away from Penske Racing to rebuild a team that struggled under owner/driver Michael Waltrip. Finishing fourth in the standings with Kurt Busch last season, the top-line crew chief has high expectations that things can turn around quicker than you’d expect. A run for the Chase might be too much to ask for this revamped program, but don’t be surprised if they sneak in a trip to victory lane before the 2010 season is out. Hungry driver plus hungry crew chief plus up-and-coming team usually equals a pretty good solution on the NASCAR circuit.

2006 Frontstretch Grade: C
2007 Grade: B+
2008 Grade: C
2009 Grade: C-

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