After leaving Earnhardt Ganassi Racing at the end of the 2009 season, Martin Truex Jr. was embarking on a new adventure he had not had in quite sometime – working with a new team. Since joining the NASCAR ranks in the Nationwide Series back in 2003, Truex primarily worked with the same group of guys – most notably crew chief Kevin “Bono” Manion – throughout his entire career. But after a decision to head to Michael Waltrip Racing for the 2010 season, Truex left that group behind and began to forge a new relationship with a new program, led by crew chief Pat Tryson.
No one knew what to expect of the new partnership; but it didn’t take long for the pairing to make an impact. Making his MWR debut in Daytona, Truex ran strong all day and was one of the strongest cars late in the event, in position to go for the win at the end. It took a bold move by Kevin Harvick on a late-race restart to shuffle Truex’s No. 56 NAPA Toyota out of the lead, with the team eventually finishing the day in sixth.
But while the crew was proud of their first effort together, it was Truex’s old group of guys having a bit more fun in victory lane.
Leading the final two laps, Jamie McMurray powered EGR’s No. 1 Bass Pro Shops team to the win in the biggest race of the year. You’d expect those circumstances would leave him disappointed not to be the one celebrating in victory lane, but Truex explained it was not frustrating to watch his old team win without him.
“I was happy for those guys,” he said during an interview Wednesday. “A lot of guys on that team, we’ve been good friends for a long time, we still are. I was happy for Johnny [Morris] at Bass Pro and ‘Bono’ and all those guys that went to victory lane. They’ve been working hard at it for a few years and had some tough luck. It was good to see them go there.”
For Truex, his focus is now on improving the No. 56 team and putting himself in contention to win races and contend for championships. The promising run in the Daytona 500 was quickly countered just 64 laps into the second race of the year in Fontana, Calif. when the engine under the hood let go, ending the team’s day early. But the team bounced back quickly; during the next two weeks in Las Vegas and Atlanta, the Tryson-led pit crew took home the Tissot “Pit Road Precision” Awards for spending the least amount of time on pit road.
Those accomplishments have the New Jersey native both excited and confident a win is right around the corner.
“I’m so happy with my team and what they’ve been able to do so far,” Truex said. “Obviously, it’s a work in progress, there are some things we can work on and get better at, but we’ve had great cars, we’ve run well, and we’ve had speed.”
But the driver’s not the only one with a smile on his face these days. Since the announcement Tryson would be joining Truex on the No. 56 team last September, the duo’s had time to work on their relationship before hitting the ground running in Daytona. So while they could not work together during a race until recently, Truex explained the relationship has come along nicely and is one of the biggest factors into his transition to the new group of guys.
“For us, the chemistry has been one of the easiest things,” he claimed. “I feel like me and Pat have gelled really quickly. We had a lot of great testing over the winter, and he’s got a great personality and is easy to work with. I’ve got a lot of confidence in what he can do and his credentials he brings. That part was really, really easy. For us, it’s just a matter of working together more and getting to understand each other better as far as what I like in the car, what I’m looking for, and what kind of things the cars they are building at MWR need to go fast.”
Truex Jr. admits the stuff being built at MWR is a little different than what he and Tryson – who worked with Kurt Busch at Penske Racing in 2009 – have experienced in the past. While they are continuing to make strides, Truex believes the new rear spoiler will create a clean slate for all teams, allowing his Toyota to compete on a better level and not be so far behind the top dawgs in the sport.
“It’s constantly a work in progress just to be better as a whole, every part of the team, everything we do, build better cars, make better decisions on the weekends,” he said. “All of those things we look at each week, every part of it is picked apart to try and find ways to be better. We’re talking maybe three tenths of a second [of improvement] can [make you] go from running tenth to first. You just pick apart all the things about the team, all the things you’re doing, and try and make them all better.”
The hopes are high with this new team, and Truex believes their first win could come as soon as this weekend in Bristol or next weekend in Martinsville. If it’s to come in the next two races, however, Truex will have to step up his previous performances at the two short tracks. His best finish at Bristol is 11th, while he has four finishes outside the top 25. The numbers are not that much better in Martinsville, either; Truex’s best run is a 10th, again with four finishes outside the top 35. Yet the numbers are not worrying this veteran, who pointed out he simply needs to react to the changes in rubber as the race goes on better than before.
This season, Truex appears more confident in his team and his abilities than in years past. With one win on the Cup Series level (Dover – 2007) and two Nationwide Series championships, Truex has proven he has what it takes to get the job done behind the wheel. With the resources at MWR, the leadership of a proven winner like Tryson atop the pit box, and a renewed confidence, Truex is ready to make that next step in his NASCAR career.