Truex Jr. can use All-Star week as catalyst
May 15, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
Martin Truex Jr. has earned two NASCAR Nationwide Series championships and hoisted a Sprint Cup Series trophy in Victory Lane at his hometown track in Dover, Del. He’s won the Sprint Showdown -- the All-Star race qualifier -- twice (2007 and 2010) and earned two berths in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
But Truex still claims one of the most memorable moments of his career didn’t involve a trophy but was instead the raw and heartfelt joy he experienced winning the Fan Vote for the 2005 All-Star Race.
“Obviously, when I won it in 2005, I was completely and absolutely shocked and humbled to be voted in by the fans,’’ Truex said.
"Obviously, our sport revolves around the fans. We talk about it all the time. Without them, there would be no NASCAR, we would not be doing what we're doing. I get to drive race cars for a living. Growing up as a kid, I never thought that was even a possibility.
"To get voted in by the fans was one of the coolest things I've ever had happen to me in my whole career."
Truex, who drives the No. 56 NAPA Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, has been among the top vote-getters in the Sprint Fan Vote this month, as is Cup Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Danica Patrick and former Cup champ Bobby Labonte.
The vote will decide who among 25 drivers will transfer from the Sprint Showdown into Saturday night’s All-Star main event at Charlotte Motor Speedway regardless of how they fare in the Showdown.
Fans can vote an unlimited number of times until 5 p.m. (EDT) on May 18 by downloading the NASCAR Mobile ’13 application or visiting NASCAR.com/SprintFanVote. Votes cast on NASCAR Mobile ’13 will count twice toward a driver’s total.
"Maybe this year we'll have a chance at it," Truex said of the fan vote, adding, "I would say my odds are not very good with Danica being in there. But my fans have been voting, they've been on Twitter talking about it. I want to thank them. It's cool to have that support from all them guys. It's really neat.
“We've seen all different types of strategies trying to get people the fan vote, with all kinds of different things they've done over the years. I think for us this year it's just about going out on the race track and doing the best we can, getting our fans involved, hope they vote.
"I'm not real sure what everybody else is doing. Our plan right now is to go to the Showdown, win the thing, get in that way."
Patrick and fellow Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Ricky Stenhouse had fun campaigning for the fan vote. They made a short video showing Patrick voting for herself, but also expecting Stenhouse to vote for her as a romantic gesture and nod to their relationship.
In the video, Patrick leaves Stenhouse alone with the fan vote mobile app, and he selects himself instead.
"We thought that was fun," Patrick said of the video skit. "GoDaddy came up with the script and thought it was a clever little script, so we shot it in a matter of about 20 minutes and it aired. Obviously, we both want to be in the race and to try to create a little bit of buzz to get people to go vote and have some fun with it."
"I think about it from a fan’s perspective and I think you want the driver you cheer for to be out there, of course, but you want a good race. Hopefully, they think of me when they think of those two."
Of course, getting into the All-Star race isn’t just a matter of pride or winning a popularity contest. It’s about getting some well-needed laps in the new Gen-6 car at the Charlotte 1.5-mile track before the Coca-Cola 600 there on May 23.
Winners from the 2012 and 2013 season are among the 22 drivers who have already secured a starting spot in the All-Star race.
Only one "fan vote" driver, Kasey Kahne, has gone on to win the All-Star race (2008), but again, logging laps at the track in a non-points race has never been at more of a premium.
"I don't think it's something you see a lot (fan vote driver winning) just because the guys that win most of the races, the guys that win a lot, are the guys that are probably already in the thing," Truex said. "It's definitely a long shot to get voted in and win the thing. But anything can happen, that's for sure.
"Certainly our team is capable of going there and winning if we can get in the race."
The numbers back that up. Truex has had 11 top-10 finishes in the last 13 races on 1.5-mile tracks.
He led 142 laps and finished runner-up at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway in April and led another 46 laps the following week at the 1.5-mile Kansas oval.
And when Truex won the Showdown in 2007, he went on to claim his only Cup win the next week at Dover. A good showing at Charlotte this weekend could bode well for him to snap that nearly six-year winless streak next week in the Coca-Cola 600.
"Track time is very, very important," said Truex, who is ranked 14th in the championship standings.
"With it being the new car, the Gen‑6 car, going there for the first time. We've tested there, but testing is testing. That was three or four months ago and a lot has changed since then. So, yeah, there's definitely a lot to learn. If you don't make that race, I think you'll be behind the eight ball come 600 weekend.
"We won it (Showdown) in 2007 and after that it seemed to kick-start our team. Went to Dover (and won), ran second (Michigan) or third (Pocono, Pa.), ended up making the Chase for the first time that year. I definitely think there's some incentive there. It builds confidence. It gets the guys pumped up.
"Without a doubt, I feel like we should win that race. Anything less would be a disappointment. We're going there guns loaded trying to do all we can do, and hopefully we'll come out on the right side of it this time."