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Sorensen: Martin Truex Jr.’s Sprint Cup career has been a ‘seriously steep roller coaster’

Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for 20 years and has been at the paper for 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. Athletes tire of answering the same questions about the same subjects. So my first question to Martin Truex Jr. on Friday is: What do you want to talk about?

“You know what, I think about this all the time when I’m getting interviewed,” Truex says behind dark glasses. “Now you ask me and I got nothing. I got no answer for you. I feel like an idiot.”

Here’s a subject. Your Thursday night was a microcosm of your 2013.

Truex, 33, tore around the track last Sunday in the Chevrolet he drives for his new employer, Furniture Row, and qualified second for the Daytona 500.

Since Richard Childress Racing has a technical alliance with Furniture Row, Truex probably was wise to finish second and not knock Austin Dillon, grandson of Richard Childress, off the pole.

Truex was in the 500, up front, ready to start a new phase of his eight-season Sprint Cup career. All he had to do was avoid a wreck in the Budweiser Duel. On the last lap of Thursday’s final race, he was involved in a wreck not of his own making. His car caught fire. So he had to switch to his backup, which means he will start at the back of the pack.

Friday’s rain meant Truex didn’t get to drive the backup. Because of pending rain Saturday, there’s no guarantee he’ll get to drive it. His Chevrolet could be a stranger.

He’s no stranger to ascents and descents.

“Seriously steep roller coaster,” Truex says of his Sprint Cup career. “It seems like every time I get in position where things are going well it goes bad. We get momentum, we get a good team put together and make the Chase and Victory Lane and then all of a sudden we’ve got to start over.

“At the same time, it’s made me who I am. I think I’m a better driver and a better person today because of the tough days I’ve had.”

This is where Truex, with maudlin music in the background instead of roaring engines, says he wouldn’t trade the bad times.

He’s honest. So he doesn’t say that.

“I’m not going to say I wouldn’t trade them,” says Truex. “Because it (stinks) to go through crap like that.”

The son of a racer and the older brother of Sprint Cup rookie Ryan Truex, Truex raced two years in the Nationwide Series and won the championship in 2004 and 2005.

He was young and he was going to be a star and he made his full-time Cup debut in 2006 with DEI. He finished 19th in points. In ’07, he finished 11th. He was on the way. Then he wasn’t.

DEI imploded and merged with Chip Ganassi Racing. In 2010 Truex went to work for struggling Michael Waltrip Racing. He finished as high as 11th and as low as 22nd.

Last season Truex was competing for the final spot in the Chase. Then teammate Clint Bowyer spun when he had no reason to spin and teammate Brian Vickers pulled into the pits when he had no reason to pull into the pits. The idea was to manipulate the outcome and get Truex in.

He got in. He was ecstatic. But the manipulation, which Truex says he knew nothing about, was as obvious as a pre-race flyover.

Says Truex: “When I first got the call from NASCAR, I think it was Sunday evening, and they’re like, ‘Well we need to meet with you tomorrow, you and your team.’ Yeah, this isn’t good. I pretty much knew what was going to happen.”

Truex was out of the Chase. His sponsor, NAPA Auto Parts, abandoned Michael Waltrip Racing. Without NAPA, Truex had no ride.

He was unemployed.

“Honestly, it wasn’t that bad,” says Truex. “It wasn’t the end of the world, right?”

In alphabetical order, you lost your place in the Chase, your ride and your sponsor. You weren’t down, depressed, despondent?

“Because I’ve been through a lot of crap I realized it could be a lot worse,” says Truex. “I could be sitting at home right now. In all reality I got really lucky that a ride this good turned up that late in the season.”

Kurt Busch left Furniture Row for Stewart-Haas Racing, and on Nov. 1 Furniture Row signed Truex.

Furniture Row offers a quality few NASCAR employers do. They have one car.

“Yeah,” Truex says, “we’re on our own.”

He has no teammates who will be told to cheat. So if he gets in the Chase, he’s not leaving.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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