NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2010 NASCAR Driver Review: Martin Truex Jr.

Martin Truex Jr.

2010 Ride: No. 56 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota
2010 Primary Sponsor: NAPA Auto Parts
2010 Owner: Michael Waltrip
2010 Crew Chief: Pat Tryson
2010 Stats: 36 starts, 0 wins, 1 top five, 7 top 10s, 1 pole, 3 DNFs, 22nd in points

High Point: 2010 was full of ups and downs, but the season started and ended particularly well for Martin Truex Jr. and team. Truex entered Speedweeks making his debut for Michael Waltrip Racing with Pat Tryson on top of the pit box, a revamped effort that would typically take several weeks to gel. But the new combination hit the ground running, immediately contending for a Daytona 500 win after a strong performance at or near the front of the pack all day long.

On the restart of the first green-white-checkered attempt, Truex shot out of his position on the outside of row one and actually took the lead heading into turn 1. Unfortunately, the help he was receiving in the form of Kevin Harvick became a little too anxious and nudged the NAPA Toyota out of the low groove and nearly into the wall. Truex was able to regain control of his machine, managing to finish in the sixth position for the team’s best effort in nearly a year and a half. So even though he was left to wonder what might have been, starting the season with a top 10 in The Great American Race is certainly something to be proud of.

35 races later, after what some may view as a disappointing season the No. 56 team again came out of nowhere to lead 62 laps in the season finale at Homestead. In fact, there were times when nobody could even contend with Truex, including eventual winner Carl Edwards. But despite how good things looked early, the 30 year-old would not end his afternoon in victory lane for the first time in over three years. It was a blown tire on lap 199 that essentially ended the team’s shot at the win; however, a gutsy comeback and some timely strategy allowed them to recover and finish 11th.

While the result was not an accurate reflection of the team’s performance in south Florida, the entire race did give them a strong momentum boost into the offseason.

Low Point: Following the Daytona 500, Truex and company turned in a mixed bag of results, ranging from a DNF at Fontana to a season-high fifth place at Martinsville. The inconsistency left the MWR flagship team in contention for the Chase for much of the first half of the season, but they could never establish themselves in the top 12. Which side of the seesaw would finally win out?

Well, that light at the end of the tunnel the team was chasing would turn into the headlamp of an oncoming train at Sonoma in June. When Truex made the trip out west he was 16th in points, just 93 markers out of the coveted final Chase spot. The NAPA Toyota was running solidly within the top 10 on that road course when an overly-aggressive Jeff Gordon punted Truex heading into turn 11, the slowest and tightest turn on the circuit. Truex was able to continue, but lost enough track position to place him in harm’s way of another larger, multi-car wreck that totaled the NAPA Toyota.

Those incidents not only ruined the New Jersey native’s race, leaving him languishing in 42nd, but it rattled the normally composed driver’s temper. “What goes around comes around,” Truex threatened in his post-wreck interview referring to Gordon, an attitude that carried over long into New Hampshire the following week. Looking back, he had every right to be angry; the team left Sonoma 19th in the standings, 157 points out of the Chase and effectively never recovered. Truex’s next top-10 finish wouldn’t come until a ninth in Pocono that August, far too late to make a charge for an upset playoff appearance that could have been his.

Summary: While new team and driver combinations can take awhile to gel, it is safe to say there were high expectations for the No. 56 group entering 2010. MWR was growing out of its infancy, becoming a solid three-car team (including the No. 47 satellite JTG operation) they hoped could be built around their new signee behind the wheel. Pat Tryson, a winning crew chief earning Chase experience with both Penske and Roush Fenway Racing was now atop the pit box, paired with a driver in Truex who had been regarded as a superstar on the verge, coming just short of a breakout season for much of the past few years.

The team certainly showed potential at multiple points during the season, including the previously mentioned Daytona and Homestead races as well as recording a pole at Truex’s hometown track in Dover, Del. in June. However, inconsistency plagued this group all year long as they could not even piece together back-to-back top-10 finishes over 36 races.

Adding salt to the wound, Truex watched his old No. 1 ride driven by Jamie McMurray bring home three wins, including the two most prestigious trophies in the sport (the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400) while he was stuck in the midst of a rebuilding effort. Clearly, there is a lot to build on – the team had its best set of results since Waltrip and NAPA left DEI in 2005 – Truex and company will certainly be looking for improvement in 2011.

Team Ranking: Second. David Reutimann may have only finished four positions better than his teammate in the final points standings, but enjoyed a much better year. Recording a win as well as more top-five and top-10 finishes in 2010, Reutimann himself is also on the verge of a breakout stretch of performances. Truex and company will have to step it up in 2011 if they want to be on top of the totem pole at MWR.

Off-Track News: Truex, a longtime hunting and fishing enthusiast, combined two of his favorite pastimes by launching a new website for fans of both NASCAR and the outdoors. Martin Truex Jr. Authentics is an interactive site that allows fans to share their passions for both sports.

When not running his site or racing himself, Truex got to watch little brother Ryan take home two wins in 10 starts in the NASCAR K&N East Series with a sweep of both Loudon events while driving for MWR. The younger Truex also made his Nationwide Series debut in an eventful 2010, preparing for at least a part-time assault on that division next year. Looks like big brother will be busy playing the role of mentor in addition to his many other responsibilities.

2011 Outlook: While Michael Waltrip Racing isn’t quite ready to contend for a Sprint Cup championship, the team has certainly improved from their disastrous start in 2007, marked by scandal and DNQs. Meanwhile, many have had high expectations for Truex since his first career Sprint Cup win in that very same year. While those expectations have not diminished, it may be time to start thinking that it’s now or never for this driver who will be entering sixth full-time season at NASCAR’s highest level. If this team and driver can continue to grow together and find some consistency next year, a win and a Chase birth is not out of the question.

2006 Frontstretch Grade: C
2007 Grade: B+
2008 Grade: C
2009 Grade: C-
2010 Grade: B-

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