Mark Story: With every reason to be mad at the world, Martin Truex Jr. seems not to be

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJune 24, 2014 

  • THIS WEEK

    NASCAR at Kentucky Speedway

    Thursday — Truck Series UNOH 225, 8 p.m.

    Friday — Nationwide Series John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300, 7:30 p.m.

    Saturday — Sprint Cup Series Quaker State 400, 7:30 p.m.

Martin Truex Jr. has every right to be mad at the world.

A year ago, Truex was in position for his most successful Sprint Cup season ever. Then, through no apparent fault of his, adversity walloped the driver like a Floyd Mayweather haymaker.

After the last race of NASCAR's 2013 "regular season" at Richmond International Raceway, Truex had claimed the final spot in The Chase for the Sprint Cup. Then, after a "race manipulation" scandal on the part of his team, he lost his place in the NASCAR "playoffs," his car sponsor and his job within days.

"It was rough," Truex said. "One moment, you are as excited as you can be. (The next), you are trying to find a ride."`

The tumult came about after NASCAR ruled that Michael Waltrip Racing, Truex's 2013 car owner, had unfairly "gamed" the outcome of the Richmond race by having one of its other drivers (Brian Vickers) pit to help Truex gain advantage over Ryan Newman in the battle for the final spot in The Chase.

So rather than competing last fall with the biggest stars in NASCAR for the Sprint Cup championship, Truex found himself scrambling "to salvage my career," he said.

If you'd like to see an example of how to handle in public an unexpected career setback, do a Google search on Martin Truex Jr.

"At the end of the day, nothing was going to be accomplished by me storming around and yelling at people," Truex, a Mayetta, N.J., product, said last week. "I needed to conduct myself in a way that another car owner would want to hire me. I feel like I landed with a really good race team, even if we haven't really showed it yet this year."

Truex returns Saturday night to Kentucky Speedway for the fourth Quaker State 400, driving the No. 78 Chevrolet for Furniture Row Racing.

A season ago, with Kurt Busch at the wheel, Denver-based Furniture Row became the first one-car team to make The Chase since it began in 2004. After an off-season in which NASCAR made substantial changes to its aerodynamic package, the No. 78 has not been as competitive in 2014.

Truex, who will turn 34 Sunday, comes to Sparta with no wins, no Top 5s, only three Top 10s and no laps led in the first 16 races of 2014. He is 25th in points.

"We've had a terrible year," he said. "It's sort of been one thing after another. We've had some crazy bad stuff" happen.

It's a far cry from a season ago with MWR, when Truex led 353 laps, compiled 15 Top 10s, seven Top 5s and a victory over the road course at Sonoma.

Yet at Richmond, that solid 2013 took a bad turn. Truex and Newman entered the race locked in a tight battle for the final Chase position.

With seven laps to go, MWR driver Clint Bowyer spun out, bringing out a caution. After the restart, an MWR spotter brought Vickers down pit lane for no apparent mechanical reason.

After the race, Truex and Newman were tied. A tiebreaker put Truex into The Chase. But rumors abounded that Bowyer had spun on purpose to benefit Truex.

NASCAR investigated MWR's actions. While the governing body said it could not prove that Bowyer spun intentionally, it said there was evidence that Vickers had been called to the pits to manipulate the race outcome in favor of Truex.

Among other penalties, NASCAR docked all three MWR teams 50 points. That knocked Truex out of The Chase and put Newman in. Responding to the scandal, Truex's car sponsor, NAPA Auto Parts, severed its relationship with MWR. With no primary sponsor, Truex soon was out of a job.

Asked last week how tough it was to see that happen to Truex, Waltrip, the founder and co-owner of the team that bears his name, said, "It was tough on everybody. Now, we've just got to move forward."

That's what Truex is trying to do. On Saturday night, the Furniture Row Chevy will carry a paint scheme designed to raise awareness for World Vision, a Christian global humanitarian organization that works to alleviate child poverty.

After a trying year, the guy who will be driving the No. 78 car seems to have the big picture in perspective.

"What happened (at Richmond) was nothing done or caused by me, so I guess I don't see much use in being upset over things outside my control," Truex said. "At the end of the day, I still get to drive in Sprint Cup. It's real easy to lose sight of how fortunate we are to get to do this."

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com.

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