By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
Are you currently at a cross roads in life? Are you fighting an uphill battle to achieve your dreams? Are you a true fighter? If you answered yes to all three of these questions, there is a driver you should be pulling for this Chase season.
Thousands of drivers have come and gone over the history of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Some drivers latch on and have productive careers, others like Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon, change the sport forever and become transcendent icons. Then there are those who are tossed to the curb, chewed up and spit out by the harsh business that is big-time auto racing.
Martin Truex Jr. was nearly a driver in that third category.
After a promising start to his career saw the driver from Mayetta, New Jersey capture two NASCAR Xfinity Series championships, things began to stall out when Truex moved to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
In his rookie campaign of 2006, Truex recorded just five top-10 finishes, and it appeared that maybe he wasn’t quite ready for the big stage. A year later though, the roller coaster ride that is his career began to work it’s way back up. He won his first-career race at Dover and he made it into NASCAR’s Chase for the first time. Truex had arrived.
And then he hadn’t.
Two subsequent sub-par seasons at Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, sent Truex looking for greener pastures. He landed at Michael Waltrip Racing in 2010. Truex struggled out of the gates with MWR, but he kept digging and eventually disappointment began to turn into mild success. By 2013, Truex was finally a winner again, as he took his second-career victory at Sonoma Raceway. It appeared that Truex would be heading toward his second appearance in the Chase, but a cheating scandal at Richmond — led by his teammate Clint Bowyer spinning on purpose to help Truex — tarnished what should have been the feel-good story of the season.
Truex was booted from the Chase by NASCAR, and in the fallout of the chaos Truex was left without a sponsor and without a ride.
It looked like the once promising star on the horizon had faded before it had a real chance to shine.
Then at the 11th hour, just as it looked like he’d be on the sidelines for the 2014 season, Truex landed at Furniture Row Racing. The team had just helped guide Kurt Busch back to the Chase a year prior, so naturally it looked like the perfect place for Truex’s career resurrection.
On paper things looked great, but what ensued was a nightmare for the now over-30 year old driver.
Truex struggled to the worst season of his then up-and-down career. Amidst the horrid results on track, Truex was enduring another type of hell away from the track. His life partner — Sherry Pollex — was battling ovarian cancer. It seemed like the world was collapsing for the driver, and just as it looked like he couldn’t handle what was being thrown at him mentally, physically, emotionally and professionally — the sky began to clear.
Pollex began to turn a corner in her treatment in 2015, and for the new NASCAR season, Truex was partnered with a young up-and-coming crew chief — Cole Pearn. As stress at home began to ease, and the relationship with his new crew chief began to gel, Truex summoned strength and encouragement from the love of his life and began turning heads on the track for the right reasons.
An emotional win at Pocono fueled Truex to a Chase berth. By season’s end, 22 top-10 finishes propelled him into the final four of the Chase for the Sprint Cup as he would end the season with his best-ever championship points finish — fourth.
It seemed like a career year. Until Truex came out firing on all cylinders in 2016.
FRR swapped manufacturers in the offseason from Chevrolet to Toyota, and in the process started a new technical alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing. Everyone expected Truex to contend for a win, but they didn’t expect the No. 78 team to be very fast at the beginning of the season, having started things off by finishing about an inch from winning the Daytona 500.
Truex then went on to lead a record 392 of 400 laps in the Coca-Cola 600 and he captured victory in another crown jewel — the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington.
As we head into the third race of the 2016 Chase, Truex has led more laps on the season than any driver (1,407). Truex is also already guaranteed to move into the round of 12 after capturing his third victory of the season a couple of weeks ago in Chicago. Truex’s first-round Chase success is the continuation of one of the wildest career rides we have ever seen in the history of the sport.
From promising young talent, to disappointing story, to a driver reborn, to losing everything as a result of a nasty cheating scandal, to growing into one of the best drivers in the garage area — Hollywood couldn’t write a better script. Truex is a true testament of what is possible if you don’t give up on you dreams, even when things couldn’t look more bleak.
Truex is just eight races away from potentially writing the ultimate chapter for his Cinderella Story career.