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For Truex, some progress amid the pain

April 15, 2013, David Caraviello ,

It has been 210 races since Truex has seen Victory Lane

Read more: No. 56 low in inspection

FORT WORTH, Texas -- After the start to the season he’s suffered through, Martin Truex Jr. should have been elated to finish second at Texas Motor Speedway. In truth, though, nothing else could have hurt worse.

Saturday night brought the kind of result Truex and his No. 56 team sorely needed after a miserable opening to the 2013 Sprint Cup campaign left him buried in points coming to the big track in Fort Worth. But when you haven’t won in six years, you’ve suffered through a series of near misses, and you were out front for 142 laps before losing the lead on a late pit stop -- well, it’s fairly easy to understand why Truex felt the way he did.

“It was pretty frustrating to run second again,” the Michael Waltrip Racing driver said. “I feel like we've been in this boat and this position a bunch of times. You know, nothing about it is much fun. At the same time, it was a good run for us. We had a great weekend. Had a good race car all weekend long, and we learned a lot about things we can use in the future. Just running second sucks, especially when you're that fast. So a little bit frustrated right now.”

Truex is still searching for his first Sprint Cup Series victory since his only win at the sport’s premier level, which came in a rain-delayed Monday event at Dover in 2007. Entering Texas, the gap since then had been 209 races, a number approaching the record for starts between victories -- 226, held by former series champion Bill Elliott.

He’s come close to ending that streak before. Last year at Kansas, Truex led 173 laps and looked poised to dominate the race until the handling on his car went away late, and he finished second to Denny Hamlin. Later that season in Atlanta, he was out front for 40 consecutive laps near the end until a caution opened the door for Hamlin -- again -- to win the race.

"I feel like we've been in this boat and this position a bunch of times."

-- Martin Truex Jr. on finishing second again

This time, Hamlin wasn’t in the event -- he was watching Brian Vickers wheel his car while recovering from a fractured vertebra suffered in a crash last month. But his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch was, and the No. 18 car overtook Truex on the night’s final pit stop cycle to claim his second victory of the season.

“We came in with the lead,” Truex said of the final stop. “I still feel like we should have been able to beat (Busch) out. I don't know what happened there, but it wasn't even close. I was three cars behind, so it wasn't all pit position. It was other things on our end.”

It was no fluke -- Busch led 171 laps, more than any other driver in the event. But Truex had paced 31 of 32 laps before Busch grabbed the lead on the final stop, and was left with thoughts of what might have been.

“It really is like getting punched in the gut, to be that good and to be there at the end and then not be able to have things go your way,” said Scott Miller, competition director at MWR. “Obviously, winning these races is really a very difficult thing for anybody. Circumstances have to be right. The best thing is, though, we’ve started off the year with terrible luck on the 56. We’ve had some fast cars. We just haven’t been able to get any finishes. … This is a good starting point, so we just have to try to build from here. But it would almost have been better to build on something like a third-place finish.”

For the No. 56 team, the frustration did not end with the checkered flag -- NASCAR announced the front of Truex’s car had been found to be too low in post-race inspection, opening the door to potential penalties. But the finish at least offered a glimpse of hope for a team that three times this season has finished 24th or lower.

“We've had a rough season so far as finishes go,” said Truex, whose only other top-10 before Saturday was an eighth at Las Vegas. “… Finishing second is good. I'm not saying that's not the case. It's just when you've been so close to winning so many times since your last one, it really sucks to run that good and finish second. Circumstances, the way they play out sometimes, they go that way.”

The next race brings another chance at the same 1.5-mile Kansas track where the No. 56 car was so dominant last year. “I think it will be good,” said Truex, who is often at his best on fast, intermediate venues. “… Look forward to going there.” And yet, not even that confidence could mask the hurt he was feeling over coming close to victory yet again.

“He’s been in that same situation so many times here in the last couple of years,” Miller said. “It’s wearing on him. It’s wearing on him.”


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