2011 NASCAR Preview: The Top 30 Driver Countdown
2011 Driver Countdown
No. 56 NAPA Toyota
Team: Michael Waltrip Racing
Owner: Michael Waltrip/Rob Kauffman
Crew Chief: Pat Tryson
Years with current team: 2
Under contract through: 2011+
Best points finish: 11th (2007)
Hometown: Mayetta, N.J.
Born: June 29, 1980
Normally, showing up the boss isn’t the best career move. But in the case of Martin Truex Jr., not only was that process encouraged, but it was hailed as progress after owner/driver Michael Waltrip stepped out of the now-No. 56 seat. Following a dismal 2009 season, Waltrip made the decision to step back from behind the wheel and let someone else take over, luring Truex from a plum ride at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing as a replacement. It’s a move that saw limited results. But there is promise on the horizon as the team is expected to fully mature in 2011.
A look at the 2010 stats shows a Chase bid this year might be a long shot, with just one top-5 finish, seven top 10s, 88 laps led and a 22nd-place finish in the final standings. But consider the stats with Waltrip the past three years: a total of one top 5, six top 10s and no points finish higher than 29th. Considering Truex was a surprise postseason contender — he was 16th in points before some unlikely contact with Jeff Gordon helped derail his Chase bid at Infineon last June — how quickly they righted this downtrodden program bodes well for the future.
That focus starts squarely in the shop with the guiding, reasoned hand of crew chief Pat Tryson. A veteran who has seen success with the likes of Kurt Busch and Mark Martin, Tryson has formed an instant chemistry with Truex, and both parties fully believe in each other.
“We’ve continued to fight. We’ve never given up and made some noise this season,” said Truex of his year last November. “We've got some stuff to work on, but we know what we need to work on so I expect to come out of the box strong in 2011.”
Atop the list is something as simple as fixing TRD’s engine program. Michael Waltrip Racing endured seven DNFs for engine failures among drivers Truex, David Reutimann, and JTG Daugherty affiliate Marcos Ambrose, along with over a half-dozen races in which cars went behind the wall for other mechanical issues. You can’t have consistency without reliability, a fault that has seemed to dog MWR since the start of its program in 2007.
Truex also needs to stand up for himself, a trait he learned after Gordon spun him without retribution in a momentum-stealing moment that ruined his season. Often known as the quiet guy, Truex is well liked off the track but perceived to be one of the most passive guys on it, someone who can be pushed around for position. Reutimann, his teammate, shares that trait. Of the two, Truex is more likely to build the backbone needed for success.
“Nice guys finish last,” he said at Loudon last June. “The nice guy gets pushed around, and I’m tired of being the nice guy. I haven’t seen much respect all year, to be honest with you, at the racetrack. Guys take advantage of you every chance they get. We get put in a difficult position because the field is close, every spot means so much, the clean air situation … there’s so much pressure to get everything we can get. I think guys just cross the line too much. I don’t know the answer and how to fix that. I just know how I’m going to do it. I’m just going to do what everyone does to me every week.”
Should Truex live up to his word — getting aggressive when it matters most — the keys are in place for long-term success. He and Reutimann have similar personalities and mesh well together. He’s run well at a variety of tracks, scoring at least one top 10 at a short track, intermediate, flat and restrictor plate ovals in 2010, and is expected to race out of the box strong during Speedweeks in February. Remember, if there’s one thing his boss knows how to help with, it’s winning the Daytona 500. Waltrip’s biggest claim to fame is as a two-time champ, in 2001 and ’03.
We wouldn’t recommend any more “NAPA Know How” karaoke commercials (that might be better left to the boss, too), but the Truex/Tryson relationship is one that could go far, as Waltrip breeds positivity within the No. 56 ranks. In fact, the next song all parties might be singing is in celebration of making the Chase come September.
What The Competition Is Saying
Thoughts from anonymous garage-area owners, crew chiefs and team members.
Truex, who left Earnhardt Ganassi Racing a year ago, suffers in comparison to his successor at his previous team. “I hate to say it and wouldn’t have predicted it,” says a crew chief, “but Jamie McMurray really made Truex look bad. Martin’s a good guy and a real good driver. Maybe his team has made progress that just hasn’t shown itself yet.”
Another says, “That team (Michael Waltrip Racing) is always overrated. It always gets more attention that it deserves. People always predict it’s going to do better than it actually does.”
A rival team owner says, “Truex gets the job done behind the wheel. The team may have to get its act together, but he’s definitely a driver who ought to be winning races.”
Looking at Checkers: Always shows up at his home track of Dover.
Pretty Solid Pick: A versatile sort, Truex can notch top-5 results on most any type of track ...
Good Sleeper Pick: ... even on the road courses.
Runs on Seven Cylinders: Bristol, which is surprising considering he runs so well at Dover — a ’roid’d up Bristol.
Insider Tip: Nagging mechanical issues are the one thing holding the Truex/Tryson duo back. Once corrected, they’ll be tough.
Top 5s: 1
Top 10s: 7
Laps Led: 88
Laps Completed: 10,327
Lead Lap Finishes: 25
Bonus Points: 45
Races Led: 9
Average Start: 17.1
Average Finish: 18.8
After First 26 Races: 20th
Final Points Standing: 22nd
Driver Rating: 82.2 (19th)