Truex puts 2008 turmoil behind him
Martin Truex Jr. had plenty on his mind in 2008 ... plenty of turmoil, that is. This year, he's hoping to concentrate on what he does best -- driving the No. 1 Chevy for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The frustration Martin Truex Jr. felt during midsummer contract negotiations, a late-season slump that left him out of the Chase and a tumultuous offseason that saw the Sprint Cup organization and top executives he considered allies disappear with little warning was gone.
He was smiling and confident, feeling better about his new teammates and the prospects for improved performance than he has in years. He's not concerned that in a few months, maybe a few weeks, he'll again be in negotiations that could land him elsewhere in 2010.
But it wasn't that long ago that he was questioning almost everything that had happened since his old company, Dale Earnhardt Inc., merged with Chip Ganassi Racing.
And with good reason. Bass Pro Shops, his primary sponsor, had pulled back some of its financial commitment and only one of the four cars that will compete in the season-opening Daytona 500 was fully sponsored. More than 150 employees had been laid off, many of them close friends.
And Max Siegel, the president of global operations, the man who convinced Truex to return to DEI for another season, left to work with NASCAR's diversity program.
"Hell, yeah, I was full of questions," Truex said as he looked ahead to the Feb. 15 Daytona 500. "I was calling them on the phone all the time figuring out what was going on. It was different. I've never been a part of anything like that. I had a lot of questions and a lot of concerns.
"They worked with me on everything and we made it work."
Or at least he hopes so. Truex still has trouble saying the new team name.
"I haven't even tried it yet," he said, pointing to the EGR patch on his uniform.
But at least now he understands why moves were made and people disappeared. He understands that DEI and Chip Ganassi Racing did what they had to do to survive, and in doing so he believes both teams will be stronger.
He's excited about working with Aric Almirola, who takes over the No. 8 that he shared with Mark Martin last season full time. He loves the fire and energy that former Ganassi star Juan Pablo Montoya brings.
"He's a firecracker, no doubt about it," Truex said.
But most of all he likes the presence that Ganassi brings. He likes that the man who co-owns the team with DEI owner Teresa Earnhardt is in the shop on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis. He likes that Ganassi will be at the track most weekends, something the organization didn't have in previous years.
Nothing against Earnhardt. Her forte was the business side, and she found no reason to attend many races or hang out in the shop.
"She's like a ghost that walks around and you never see her," Truex said. "I can understand, but it's definitely been a little different, and I think it's going to help, for sure [having Ganassi around].
"[Teresa's] still a big part of the team and making business decisions and all that and having her name on it, but having that presence in the race shop with the racers and the guys that grew up turning wrenches -- it's important."
It's important for the guys at the shop. It's important for the drivers and crew chiefs.
It's definitely important to Truex.
"That's important to a lot of the guys, especially our guys that maybe haven't seen that type of leadership before," he said. "It's important for them to see that. I think it's going well, and I think it's going to be just fine."
Truex discovered a newfound appreciation for Ganassi one day recently when a member of his team asked if the Pittsburgh native was going to Tampa to watch the Steelers and Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl.
"Chip was like, 'Well, I laid off a lot of people this year. Do you really feel I'm going to get on a jet and go to the Super Bowl?'" Truex said. "That impressed me. That's the thing I would want to hear if I was working nine to five, six or seven days a week putting everything I had into it.
"That's the kind of thing I would want to hear from my owner. So it's going to be a great addition for our guys."
Will it be enough of an addition to keep Truex at EGR past this season? He was courted by Stewart-Haas Racing and Penske Racing last season, but because DEI had an option on his contract and because he was convinced things could turn around, he agreed to stay.
He's not second-guessing that decision despite all that has happened since.
"You can't ever second-guess anything," Truex said. "I'm gonna do the best I can do. I believe in my race team. They're as good as anybody out there, there's no doubt.
"There's some things we need to improve on from last year, but we're moving in that direction."
DEI wasn't that far from being able to compete for wins with Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing last season. Martin was in position to win three or four times. Menard sat on the pole at the July Daytona race and had a top-5 at Talladega.
Truex was on the cusp of being among the top 12 drivers who make the Chase for the second straight season before a 150-point penalty from NASCAR and a few mishaps set him back.
"I was totally amazed at what they [DEI] had when I walked in the door," said Bobby Hutchens, who left DEI after last season to become the competition director at Stewart-Haas Racing. "They were as close to being as good as anybody in the sport -- Hendrick, Joe Gibbs Racing, RCR, Roush."
That promise kept Truex around. This time he will be looking for more guarantees. He's vowed to do things differently.
"I was at a crossroads [last season]," Truex said. "There was so much stuff I was worried about on the racing side. That was a weird position to be in. I really didn't know what I was going to do. It was like, 'Man, I've got to make this decision.'
"I plan on being more prepared this time."
Truex doesn't know what his timetable is. He's guessing he'll know his future plans by late May.
A lot could depend on how fast EGR comes out of the blocks. If everything he's been told by management comes to fruition, he expects to be in the heat of the Chase battle.
The talent certainly is there.
"We don't need a quantum leap," said Truex, who finished 15th in points last season. "We just need to get better in each aspect. It's going to be good. It's going to be better than it was last year."
If not, there will be other options.
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.