Commentary

Frustration mounting for slumping Truex after fast start in Chase

Martin Truex Jr. started the Chase with a fifth-place effort at Loudon. It's been all downhill since, but the future face of Dale Earnhardt Inc. hasn't reeled it in yet, writes Marty Smith.

Updated: October 3, 2007, 4:38 PM ET
By Marty Smith | ESPN.com

MOORESVILLE, N.C.-- Martin Truex Jr. just wants to go fishing, hit some old-faithful spots he's recently neglected and cast away the Kansas debacle. Lake Norman is down more than 5 feet this summer due to a historic drought, but Truex figures the fish are still hungry.

And if not, well, the beer's still cold.

He is pumping gas and talking racing. He needs a distraction, some perspective, and the water offers refuge. It's all relative anyway, this mind-numbing run of competitive bad luck that's despicably frustrating but, in the grand scheme, awfully doggoned frivolous.

Martin Truex Jr.
Jonathan Fickies/Getty Images for NASCARMartin Truex Jr. got off to a fast start in the Chase -- a tour of NYC and a fifth at Loudon.

Truex is a Nextel Cup winner in championship contention. He's a Busch Series champion twice over. He's "The Dream" personified. And though he shrugs it off as a ridiculous observation, he has managed effortlessly the challenge of being his own man amid the endless Dale Earnhardt Jr. hysteria.

He's Junior's driver, but he never tried to be Junior. Truex is just fine, thank you. He is carrying Dale Earnhardt Inc. Quietly. Efficiently.

But again, after two tough weeks it's difficult to maintain that perspective.

Dejection drips from his every word, barely audible over the crisp fall breeze whipping so loudly through his cell phone receiver you'd swear he was standing in a hurricane.

Truex is a realist. Gotta let it go. Gotta let it go. ...

"It's hard not to think what could have been the last two weeks, and where we should've finished," Truex said. "We have to put that behind us, though. Have to. You can't change what happened."

The 158-point deficit to leader Jimmie Johnson almost would be easier to stomach if it were the result of poor performance. But it's plain ol' bad luck, and that's nearly impossible for a racer to tolerate.

"It's frustrating, for sure, especially when our damn cars are good enough to win every week," Truex said. "Our performance is great. That's what we need to focus on. We've had race-winning cars, and it sucks that everything keeps going wrong."

Truex began the Chase with a fifth-place effort at Loudon, and easily had a top-10 car at Dover before being collected in a 10-car pileup triggered by Kurt Busch's blown right-front tire with 14 laps to go. With Kansas came more bad luck, as he was the victim of yet another multicar scrum not of his doing. He finished 38th, and dropped to eighth in the championship Chase.

Not that he's done, mind you.

"Oh, he can do it," Johnson said of Truex's chances. "He'll need good luck, but above everything else, it's about performance. And the way they've been running, he's definitely still in [contention]."

Johnson would know. This time last year he was 165 points behind then-leader Jeff Burton and limped home in 24th position at Talladega after teammate Brian Vickers dumped him late in the race. He left Talladega 156 points out of the lead, and rallied to win it all.

Granted, his average finish was sixth over the final six races, including a win at Martinsville and four other second-place finishes. At the six remaining tracks on the schedule (not including Homestead) on which the Cup Series already has competed this season, Truex's average finish is 15th.

"We're gonna go to Talladega and try to win," Truex said. "We're gonna keep on diggin'. It's so damn frustrating, but we still feel we have a chance. We got a shot."

Ultimately, he's a surprise in 2007. Few tabbed the No. 1 Chevrolet team as a Chase threat entering the season.

But the team did.

"Before the season started we planned on this, this was the goal and the plan," Truex said. "We knew we had a good enough team and cars. Not many people thought we could make the Chase, but we knew we could.

"Now that we're in it we want to win it. We're not just happy to be here. We're racers. We want to win every week and be the best out there. That's part of why we've run so good. My guys work their guts out, put their heart and soul into it. That's the hardest part about the past couple of weeks, we haven't gotten the results we deserve."

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.