Truex following in Junior's path
SI.com's Mark Beech offers the most intriguing news, notes and analysis fans need to know heading into each week's race.
Martin Truex Jr. loves New Hampshire. During his breakout season in 2007, he earned two top-five finishes at Loudon and said it was a close call between it and Dover (where he got his first career win last year) for his favorite track.
If karma counts for anything, Truex -- who is now the top dog at Dale Earnhardt Inc. -- will need it this weekend, because only rarely this season has he resembled the driver who qualified for the Chase last year. He's got just four top-10 finishes in the first 16 races, and currently ranks 17th in the points standings.
Even worse, his contract with DEI remains up in the air. Truex's on-track problems seem to be the same ones that Dale Earnhardt Jr. spent so many years complaining about before he left to join Hendrick Motorsports at the end of last season: a lack of resources at the shop and a lack of horsepower in the engines. But the contract issue -- his deal is over at the end of the year unless he and DEI can agree on an option for '09 -- is a further distraction that only seems to be exacerbating the problem. How else to explain his ability to overcome DEI's limitations to qualify for the Chase last year, and his current inability to be competitive?
Indeed, Truex's problems seem to be a sign of trouble for his team. Veteran driver Mark Martin seems to be all but out the door at the end of the season. Martin's role was to be a mentor to young drivers Aric Almirola and Regan Smith, neither of whom has been setting the Cup circuit on fire. And along with Martin's departure, it appears that a major sponsor is on the way out the door, as well. There has been talk that the U.S. Army will leave DEI for another team in '09 -- a big blow considering that Budweiser dropped the team after Junior left last season. If Truex, Martin and the Army fly the coop, that leaves DEI with three cars and two sponsorship deals to go along with two unproven drivers.
That's a lot of distractions for Truex, who in addition to driving, is now expected to be the face of the company. Will New Hampshire help him get back on track? Perhaps, but the only longterm solution for his troubles would seem to be for him to emulate his buddy Junior, and abandon ship at the end of the end of this season.
How to drive
New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Denny Hamlin talks about why he likes running at NHMS: "It's flat and short. Those are the tracks we tend to excel on for the most part. I have a lot of laps on flat short tracks and I think it gives me a better feel for what I need in the racecar. I can tell [crew chief] Mike Ford more important things that I can't tell him on the bigger tracks quite yet because I have a little more seat time on these type of tracks."
6.5: Average finish for Denny Hamlin at New Hampshire, where he won last July
4: Career wins for Jeff Burton at New Hampshire, the most for the driver at any Cup track
0: Number of wins for Matt Kenseth at New Hampshire, where he has 11 top-10 finishes in 16 starts
New Hampshire memories
July 21, 2002: Five months after winning the Daytona 500, Ward Burton wins the New England 300. To date, it is his last victory on the Cup circuit. It was also the last time Bill Davis Racing reached Victory Lane.