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Year in Review: Truex Jr. has room for improvement despite making 2012 Chase

December 04, 2012, Seth Livingstone, Special to NASCAR.COM,

Year in Review: Truex Jr. has room for improvement despite making 2012 Chase

Martin Truex Jr. raced well enough in 2012 to make the Chase and earn a new, multi-year contract from Michael Waltrip Racing.

But Truex, 32, needs to do more to fulfill his potential and he knows it.

"I just can't help but think what could have been," Truex said. "There were so many chances for us to really make [the season] very, very special and we missed out on those.

"I think our expectations have definitely taken a huge turn to where we expect to be running up front each and every week and winning races."


Martin Truex Jr.

2012 Statistics
WinsFirst 26Final 10
Laps Led42311
Avg. Start12.98.7
Avg. Finish11.314.1

"We made some mistakes along the way, but as a young team I feel like we learned a lot about ourselves -- a lot that's going to help us be stronger in 2013. Hopefully, we can go out and finish what we started this year."

Truex hasn't won since posting his lone Sprint Cup victory at Dover in 2007 and says he'd gladly have traded his place in the Chase for "two or three" laps with a checkered flag in-hand this season.

"We just keep giving them away," said Truex, who in his estimation, was well-positioned to win three or four races "when we had the car to beat."

The two-time Nationwide Series champ stood second in points at midseason when he capped a string of five consecutive top-10 finishes with a second at Kansas Speedway. Truex led 173 laps in that race before surrendering the lead to eventual winner Denny Hamlin for the final 31.

Fifth in points, having banked 13 of his career-high 19 top-10 finishes when his deal with MWR was announced at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Truex was also fifth in the standings before points were re-set after Richmond. His midseason magic did not translate in the Chase, however, as he drifted to 11th at season's end.

The only Chase event he led was the season finale at Homestead-Miami, where he finished sixth. That amounted to a major rebound, considering he'd finished last the previous week at Phoenix, where the promise of a second-place qualifying effort dissolved with a blown engine after 10 laps.

Failure to capitalize in the final two events of the season left Truex frustrated and hungry.

"Run top-two all day and finish sixth -- story of our season," said Truex, after slipping from 10th to 11th in points despite his strong showing at Homestead. "We outrun the 24 [Jeff Gordon] all day and then he wins the race and beats us [in points]. Now we're not in the top 10 in points and it sucks.

"[At Phoenix] we had an awesome race car. I felt like we had a shot at challenging for a win, but it wasn't meant to be. Something broke in the top end. The TRD [Toyota Racing Development] engines have been incredible. That was the first problem we had all year."

Waltrip sees better things ahead with both Truex and his sponsor, NAPA, locked up for multiple seasons.

"Re-signing Martin was huge for us," Waltrip said. "[With] competitive race cars and engines this year, he's been able to showcase his talent. Where I am most proud of Martin is off the track. He has dedicated himself to be a leader in our organization and has accepted his role as an ambassador for our sponsors. "

Despite Truex's inability to find his way to victory lane, 2012 was a year of dramatic growth for Waltrip Racing, the three-car team Waltrip co-owns with Rob Kauffman.

Truex's third season behind the wheel for MWR was his first with Chase runnerup Clint Bowyer in the same garage. And Bowyer was excited when he learned Waltrip would retain Truex.

"Having Truex back as a teammate was something I was very, very adamant about and supportive of," Bowyer said. "We raced a lot back in our Nationwide [then Busch Series] days. We just push each other pretty good and work together well."

Truex, from Mayetta, N.J., couldn't be happier about progress at the shop and is looking forward to 2013 and beyond.

"I think our expectations have definitely taken a huge turn to where we expect to be running up front each and every week and winning races," Truex said. "We know the areas we need to work on. [We're] trying to take the next step together as a team. Chad [crew chief Johnston] and I have talked a lot about how we can do that next year and be better."

"I knew when I signed on for the 2010 season that we had a lot of work to do to get the performance to where NAPA would be proud of us. It is so gratifying that the hard work has paid off with competitive race cars every week. And I am more comfortable than ever that NAPA is my sponsor and I am their driver. It's my job to do everything I can to make sure we are together for the rest of my career."

Watch all of Truex Jr.'s highlights from 2012 and flip through his year in photos below.