From birds to breaks, is Truex's bad luck over?
June 03, 2014, Kristen Boghosian, NASCAR.com
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DOVER, Del -- When Martin Truex Jr. and the Furniture Row Racing team started preparing for the 2014 season, they acknowledged that, as a new team, they would need some time to learn each other.
"I think going to a new team is always something that at first you're nervous about," Truex said before the Daytona 500.
The team came together quickly, starting second for the season-opening Daytona 500, but seemed to have missed the impact that sheer bad luck would have on the No. 78 Chevrolet SS.
Even on a weekend where Truex posted his season-best finish of sixth in the FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks, the team had to deal with another head-scratching issue.
"Today, my second run on track I ran into a bird," Truex told ESPN's Brant James after the incident happened during practice. "Tore left-front fender all to pieces. A little bird. Just coming back straightaway, flew down. Boom. Front fender. It's crazy. Crazy things have happened."
The incident with the bird caused some damage to the car's left headlight area. Though the team easily repaired the impacted area, it was another example of how things just haven't gone their way.
It all started back in Daytona. His second-place qualifying effort eased the nerves from a first race with a new team. But a crash during the Daytona Duels, caused by Jimmie Johnson running dry on gas in the final lap, sent Truex to the back of the field in a backup car. He fought his way back, but the excitement of the start for the one-car team -- the best ever at the season-opening event -- quickly wore off when Truex blew an engine and finished 43rd.
The team had similar things to say after competing at Auto Club Speedway, where -- again in a backup car -- it battled back only to hit debris and end the day in 23rd, capping off a weekend that dealt the team more than one "punch to the gut," the driver said.
So when Truex and team had their season-best finish of sixth at Dover, it was a welcome turn of fortunes.
"You can just feel it -- that we're heading in the right direction," he said.
Since joining the Furniture Row Racing team for the 2014 Sprint Cup Series season following the scandal at Richmond and NAPA's sponsorship withdrawal, and with it the No. 56 Toyota, from Michael Waltrip Racing, the team has built cars its new driver has been happy with. Pit stops aren't the problem, either -- in fact, Truex and team had the sixth-fastest pit times at Dover.
"We're learning about this car and how to be competitive with it," Truex said. "We're getting closer and closer to finding that sweet spot. One constant we have had all year is excellent pit stops and today was a continuation of how good these over-the wall guys are. You know when you come into the pits there's a good chance you're going to gain spots."
Truex spent a total of just over 4 minutes, 58 seconds on pit road at Dover, compared to race winner Johnson's 4 minutes, 41 seconds. There were 24 penalties passed out for pit road violations at the Monster Mile, which has gained a reputation of being one of the hardest pit road entrances. Eight of those violations were for speeding on or off pit road, four were mistakes made by the pit crew, and each had significant impacts on the race. None of those penalties went to the No. 78 team.
Bad luck aside, Truex still has time to turn his season around. When Kurt Busch came to the Furniture Row Racing team in 2013, he had six finishes of 20th or worse through Dover, the 13th race on the schedule, with four top-10s. After taking his second tour at Daytona, five races later, he doubled his count of top-10s.
With Michigan coming up on the schedule -- one of the tracks where Truex has the most top-fives in his Cup career with three -- and an increasing comfort level within the team, his season could very well end like Busch's did last year.
"We're a new team and takes a while to get all the pieces of the puzzle in place," Truex said. "We're learning about this car and how to be competitive with it. We still have a ways to go but the feeling is upbeat knowing that we have more speed and can be more competitive."