When Martin Truex Jr. went to bed the night before the Daytona 500 in February he sincerely felt it was the best chance of his career to capture NASCAR’s biggest race.
“We had a fast superspeedway car,” said Truex, who qualified for the 500 on the outside pole.
But the optimism turned into a nightmare for the Furniture Row Racing driver, who was competing in his first Sprint Cup points race with the Denver-based Furniture Row Racing team.
On lap 30 of 200 a broken oil pump belt caused the engine to expire in Truex’s No. 78 Chevrolet. The early exit relegated him to a last place finish (43rd).
“No question, that really hurt,” stated Truex. “Going from the potential of winning the 500 to last place was a very humbling experience. But we’re coming back to Daytona with the same enthusiasm and optimism that we had going into the 500.”
Truex’s second chance of the season at the famed 2.5-mile tri-oval will take place Saturday night in the Coke Zero 400, the annual Sprint Cup race over the Independence Day weekend. The New Jersey native, who recently turned 34, will be competing in the same car he drove in the 500.
“Daytona is a place where I think we can get that first win,” said Truex. “It’s a cerebral race with mostly two-wide racing. You have to be totally aware of openings and drafting partners the entire race, especially in the closing laps when it gets pretty hairy. The night race at Daytona is always exciting and I am sure it will be the same on Saturday night.”
Looking at Truex’s performance record at Daytona, it quickly points out that he has not been so fortunate at the World Center of Racing. In 18 races at Daytona he has managed one top-10. His best finish in the summer race was 13th in 2007.
“Those statistics don’t mean much to me right now,” noted Truex. “We’re capable of maneuvering our car up front and being in contention for the win. You’re going to need a break or two, And if you do get those breaks and still flying near the end of the race, you’ll have a good shot at taking home the big prize.”