Truex Jr. puts distractions aside for top-10 finish
September 22, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
Michael Waltrip Racing driver salutes crew's focus despite uncertain future
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LOUDON, N.H. – He led four times for 98 laps and finished 10th for his 12th top-10 of the year, but Martin Truex Jr. was obviously disappointed as he climbed from behind the wheel of his No. 56 Toyota.
There was the frustration of a good car gone bad in the latter stages of Sunday's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. And there was the stress and strain of two weeks spent riding an emotional rollercoaster.
"I'm not sure what the future holds," Truex Jr. said as teams scrambled to load cars and pack up their belongings in the aftermath of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. "But I'm proud of these guys for staying focused and not letting it get to them.
"We'll just see how it goes. We've got some good tracks coming up. It sure would be nice to win a race or two before it's over."
The Michael Waltrip Racing driver was supposed to be one of 12 drivers competing in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, having earned a berth after the season's 26th race. But penalties levied against the MWR organization took the wind out of the group's sails, Truex Jr. out of the Chase field, and left the 33-year-old wondering what his team did wrong.
The final blow came Thursday, a day before teams arrived here for this weekend's race when NAPA announced that because of MWR's actions in the Richmond race and the penalties that followed, it would withdraw its sponsorship of the No. 56 team at the conclusion of the 2013 season.
Fifth in Friday's qualifying, Truex Jr. led briefly (one lap) during the day's first round of pit stops under caution, then shot back in front on the ensuing restart. He led the next 73 laps.
But changing track conditions in the second half of the race and a late-race restart that saw him lose several positions before the field sorted itself out was the team's undoing.
"We were fast early on," Truex Jr. said. "But even when we were leading the car was getting tight."
Crew chief Chad Johnston made several calls in an attempt to correct the problem, but "we just couldn't make any headway on it," Truex Jr. said.
"As it started cooling off those last 100 laps, it really started going away.
"We just could never get it turning good; I burned the rear tires off trying to turn on the longer runs. Then I couldn't turn, couldn't step on the gas. The last 100 laps were tough but really the last 50 was where we got killed."
MWR is trying to recover from the damage of the past two weeks, and Truex Jr. has to decide if he will stick around or seek opportunity elsewhere.
With a chance to finally get back on the track and race, the distractions could be momentarily put aside.
But they aren't forgotten.
"Those distractions are going to follow us all year long," he said. "It's just the way it is. Guys are worried about what they're going to do next year. I can't blame them. They've got families. There are 300 people at MWR that are thinking about it as well.
"It's one of those things that's always going to be there but I'm proud of the way the guys worked through it; they stayed focused, they had a great attitude this weekend. I was very proud of that.
"It was definitely a difficult week for all of us. We can worry about it tomorrow. Between Friday and Sunday we need to worry about race cars and they were able to do that. And that means a lot to me."
Two of the three MWR teams finished in the top-10 Sunday as Brian Vickers finished seventh after starting from the rear of the 43-car field. Kenny Wallace had qualified the car on Friday to allow Vickers to be in Kentucky for Saturday's Nationwide Series event.
Teammate Clint Bowyer, the only MWR driver in this year's Chase, struggled on Sunday and finished 17th. He fell one position in the points standings and is now 10th, 48 points behind leader Matt Kenseth.
"This is definitely the worst track (for me) on the circuit," Truex Jr. said. "To come here and run like we did today says a lot about the guys and what they were able to do."