When Martin Truex Jr. went to bed the night before February’s Daytona 500 feeling like it was the best chance ever to win NASCAR’s biggest race.
“We had a fast superspeedway car,” said Truex, who qualified for the “Great American Race” on the outside of the front row. But that optimism turned into a nightmare for the Furniture Row Racing driver, in his first Sprint Cup Series point-counting race with the Colorado-based 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.
“No question, that really hurt,” recalled 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 comes Saturday night in the Coke Zero 400. The New Jersey native, who recently turned 34, will drive 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.”
Truex’s performance record at Daytona shows a lack of good fortune at the World Center of Racing. In 18 races at Daytona, he has managed just one Top-10. His best finish in the July race was a 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.”