On more than a couple of occasions this season, Martin Truex Jr. had “the car to beat,” as he described it. Unfortunately, on all those race days, his car was beaten.
That’s the theme of the Truex 2012 season – almost, but no cigar.
"Just running so well each and every week and having so much speed in our race car,” said Truex, when asked about his seasonal highlights. “Obviously, making the Chase is a big deal for our team after the last two years that we had together. Definitely making the Chase and all of the races we've led and dominated. All of those days where we had the car to beat.
“The bad side of that is we didn't win, so we need to work on that. I'm trying to take the next step together as a team. Chad (Johnston, crew chief) and I have talked a lot about how we can do that next year and be better. I'm looking forward to that opportunity."
Although he scored seven top-five runs and 19 top-10 finishes, Truex was the only Chase driver (and the only driver in the points top 14) without a victory.
He went winless despite an impressive list of races in which he was at the front:
• Texas – Led 69 laps, finished sixth.
• Kansas – Led 173, finished second.
• Darlington – Led 25, finished fifth.
• Bristol – Led 44, finished 11th.
• Atlanta – Led 40, finished fourth.
• Homestead – Led 11, finished sixth.
And, although Truex finished a solid sixth at Homestead in the final race of the season, Jeff Gordon’s race win lifted Gordon past Truex in the point standings, dropping Truex to 11th and off the season-ending award banquet stage.
“We outrun the 24 (Gordon) all day, and then he wins the race and beats us – and now we're not in the top-10 in points, and it sucks,” Truex said. “Should have won four races this year, and we just keep giving them away."
What does Truex need to take the next step forward?
"I hate to even say it – just a little better fortune,” he said. “It's almost like there was a lot of times where I felt like we did the right things. We did everything right; it just didn't work out. Things happened that we didn't expect. You make decisions sometimes, and the situation after you make your decisions changes, and it affects the outcome in a bad way. We had a lot of
that, it seems like.
“I think for us, with the way we ran this year with our consistency, I feel like if we can keep doing that and we can start to take more chances. I think if we're solid each and every week, we can afford to take more chances, and we just need to be able to do that."
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.