Athlon Sports sits down with DEI’s new No. 1 driver
In celebration of Athlon Sports' upcoming 10th annual Racing magazine, we've dug into the archives to uncover some of the most memorable features, profiles and Q&As that have graced our pages. Visit the site daily for more retrospective looks at NASCAR throughout the decade.
Article originally published in 2008 Athlon Sports Racing annual
Just 16 years removed from his first go-kart, Martin Truex Jr. has come a long way in the fashion most racers prefer: Fast.
In a family-owned Busch North ride by 2000 that spawned sporadic trips up to the Busch Series, the New Jersey native got the call to drive the Chance2 Chevy for JR Motorsports in 2003. It’s been a fast track to success ever since.
Two Busch titles followed in 2004 and 2005 driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr. A promotion to Cup in ’05 came next.
After a breakthrough 2007 season — highlighted by a win at Dover and a spot in the Chase — Truex now sits poised to lead Dale Earnhardt, Inc. into the future without its famous son and Truex’s good friend.
That’s OK with Truex, though. He stepped up admirably in a season of turmoil at DEI and is now ready to “Just go race!”
Athlon Sports’ Matt Taliaferro sat down with Truex after a practice session on a sunny autumn afternoon in Charlotte and found the 27-year-old to be the ultimate combination of old-school, fix-it-yourself short-tracker and new-school, big-money NASCAR driver who is living his dream.
Athlon Sports: Your dad was a Busch North champ and you cut your teeth driving up there — and with him. How proud a moment for you and him was it when you got the call from Chance2 to drive in the Busch Series?
Martin Truex Jr.: It was surreal for me. You know, I remember sitting there just working on my (own) car, building cars to go racing. I was having fun doing what I was doing and I watched the Busch races and the Cup races on the weekends and just dreamed about what it would be like to race with those guys. And the next thing I know I am racing with them and beating them and winning championships. So, it was just cool to get the call, and the way everything went down so quick it was really kind of shocking to me.
So tell me about when you made the transition to Cup in 2004. You’re already on your way to a Busch Series championship that year and DEI enters you into the Atlanta fall race. Now you are on the track with the big boys; intimidating as hell or ‘hell yeah!’?
Hell yeah! It was like, you know you just wanted to do it, and then when I got there and started doing it, you just wanted to win just like it was anywhere else. So it’s no different than when I first got out there racing go-carts. First time I got out there I wanted to win.
The Bass Pro team showed signs of life late in 2006 when you almost won Homestead. You guys got off to a rocky start in 2007 but rebounded with the Nextel Open win, the big Dover win and ran consistently enough down the stretch to earn a Chase spot. What turned the season around?
Nothing. Just good timing. Like you said we got off to a rocky start but we had been fast all year. We had great racecars; my guys were doing a great job for me. And it was like for a while there it seemed that everything that could go wrong would.
Just like it is right now (during the ’07 Chase), you know, we would get a flat tire (and) the caution would come out when we pitted under green. Just anything that you could imagine that could go wrong, went wrong and that is what took us out of finishes.
But we had fast cars and we just kept doing what we knew how to do and then sooner or later the bad luck went away. Things started going the way we needed them to and that was the only difference.
Do you think we will ever see another team like yours that really got it started — as a group — in the Busch Series, stayed there for a couple years, won championships, then made the jump to Cup and now contends for titles? There is a different mindset to building teams now, one where a team rushes a driver through the ranks and sticks him with an experienced crew. You guys did it all together.
Yeah, it doesn’t happen that much anymore. I am not sure why. It’s worked great for us. Obviously, you know, I think when people come into the sport now, there are (more) demands. They have to have success right away to stay around. I don’t think doing it the way we did it is the formula to come in and be successful right away, but I think in the long run it makes you stronger.
The Car of Tomorrow made its plate-track debut at Talladega last October to mixed reactions. What was the quality of racing like from your view?
Sometimes it was wild and crazy like we all thought it would be and sometimes it was mellow. I think the times that it was single file and everyone was riding around the top it was just people being smart and trying to be patient. You know, usually everyone gets yelled at and says that people are driving stupid and being idiots, so a lot of us were being smart and not doing that. Then we got criticized for the race being boring … It’s just one of those deals where you can’t win.
Mark Martin once said that racing within the Chase was one of the most stressful racing conditions that he had ever been subjected to, and coming from Mark Martin, that is saying something. You’ve now been through the rigors of racing in the Chase. Does Chase racing feel the same for you, or is this just going out every week doing the same thing?
It hasn’t been stressful to me at all. We just take it as it comes. We go out there to race and do the best job we can do, and that’s all you can do.
So do you have a different mindset when you go into a weekend during the Chase?
Absolutely not. Not at all.
Junior’s decision and subsequent announcement last June coincided with a hot streak for you that produced four top-3 finishes in five races. Coincidence or statement?
Both. You know, it was a bit of a coincidence because, like I said earlier, we had been running well enough to be able to do that (all season). And it was (another) coincidence that we had been able to do it at that exact time.
You know, finally, the things that we needed to start going right started going right when he made his announcement, which was definitely a coincidence. We weren’t doing anything different by any means. The racing gods looked upon us and quit doing bad things to us, I guess.
Let me ask you what was more special: that first career Cup win at Dover or qualifying for the Chase?
Whoa. I would say the Dover win. You know, that first win, there is nothing like it. It’s great to be in the Chase and all, but that win was part of the reason we are in the Chase. So it’s definitely the win at Dover.
Tony Stewart told us he realized he ‘made it’ when he saw his face on a Coke machine in his hometown. Have you ever had an incident like that were you saw something and said, “Wow, I’m officially here?”
No. You know, I’m happy with the way things are going. I don’t need a sign or a picture to let me know that I’ve made it. I am happy with the way things are going.
I live in Nashville, which has a Bass Pro Shop where I spend too much time and money. I know you have a great love for the outdoors as well. How cool is it that you get to combine your passion for the outdoors and your passion for racing? That would just be the ultimate for me.
Yeah it’s awesome. You know, if I had to pick a sponsor — and just say Bass Pro was never in the mix and was out of the sport — that’s what I would want to be a part of. It’s been a dream come true for me. I got really lucky and just kind of stepped into it and met John (Morris, founder of Bass Pro Shops), and they were kind of sponsoring the car when I came in to drive it. We just formed a relationship and it’s been great ever since.
I love hunting and fishing. When I am not here at the racetrack I am doing something that I can support Bass Pro Shop with. So it’s been a dream come true for me. It’s a great relationship.
What is your biggest bass?
My biggest bass? About 8 pounds.
You got me beat by a couple ... I’m still looking for the wall mount. Do you get to fish at all on race weekends around the country?
Sometimes, yeah. Actually the biggest bass I caught was down in Atlanta (at) the first race this year. I went with Ryan Newman on a Saturday after practice in the afternoon and caught some big bass.
You got the Tracker boat and everything?
I got the Nitro Bass Boat. Yep, absolutely.
At the end of a 36-race season are you ready keep racing or go home?
I am ready for a break. Ready to do some hunting. Kick back.
You ever been hunting with Richard Childress?
Nope. But I have been hunting a good bit.
Probably. I don’t know. It’s fun to get some time off and do whatever you want. You have no schedule — hopefully — no schedule to commit to.
I know that your goal every year is to win a championship, to win races. Well now you’ve won races and you have made the Chase. Are there specific tracks, specific events, a specific number in mind that you look at at the beginning of the season?
No, we just tried to be prepared the best we can for all the racetracks, the different types of racetracks. Not put all our eggs in one basket and, you know, just go race!