- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 1, 2008

DOVER, Del. (AP) - Martin Truex Jr. remembered it all. Every minor race, all the hard work tinkering with cars, even the failures were on his mind as drove toward the finish line with the lead.

Truex spent a lifetime imagining the feeling of winning a Cup race.

“It’s a sweet feeling, man,” Truex said.

One year after his first career Cup victory, Truex still thinks often about how much it meant to take the checkered flag so close to his hometown. Right now, the enthusiasm of recalling the win is tempered by a cruel reality for the Dale Earnhardt Inc. driver now that he’s back this weekend at Dover International Speedway.

“It’s been a long year since,” Truex said yesterday. “We need to get back into Victory Lane.”

Truex has failed to build on last season when he earned a spot in the Chase and appeared on the brink of becoming one of the next elite drivers. Truex, of nearby Mayetta, N.J., has slumped this season with only three top 10s and holds 15th place in the Sprint Cup Series points standings. He’s 163 points out of 12th, the cutoff for the Chase, and knows he needs to get the No. 1 Chevrolet going strong soon to turn the season around.

Career victory No. 1 is stuck as his only Cup win.

“I feel like we should be” in the Chase, Truex said. “We’re good enough to be right now.”

The results tell a different story. He finished 34th last week at Charlotte after a multi-car wreck knocked him out. Truex had two other finishes in the 30s in the previous five races, with a blown engine in Texas and another late-race accident at Talladega spoiling what had been solid runs.

“My luck is terrible,” he said. “Every time we run good, something bad happens. We had a shot at winning a couple of races last year and things would happen. It’s hard to be the leader at the end of 500 miles.”

Truex qualified 20th for today’s 400-mile race at Dover and hopes the mile-long concrete track can spark his season: He also has two Nationwide Series wins here and another top 10 in the Cup Series.

There must be something about the concrete that suits his driving style.

“It seems like one of those places where it changes a lot throughout the weekend and we always hit on something that works for us,” Truex said.

Last year’s victory at Dover propelled him into the Chase. He finished third the next week at Pocono Raceway, then second at Michigan. He had eight more top-10 finishes and placed a career best 11th in the final standings.

He hoped to keep that success rolling this year as the No. 1 driver at DEI. Truex assumed the role when Dale Earnhardt Jr. defected to Hendrick Motorsports, leaving a prime spot open to position himself as the face of the organization.

“It’s been different without Dale Junior, but things have really not changed that much,” he said. “I don’t feel like I took over his spot or I’m in a special position now. I don’t think I’m anything special there.”

Truex is DEI teammates with veteran Mark Martin, who believes a break or two can give him some momentum.

“I think if you haven’t seen that Martin has been fast everywhere this year, you haven’t been looking,” Martin said.

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