[media-credit name=”Simon Scoggins” align=”alignright” width=”225″][/media-credit]For Mark Martin the 2012 season is about mixing success in with having fun during his limited schedule. For Martin Truex Jr. the 2012 season is about revisiting the winner’s circle in hopes of contending for a championship.
Sunday in Phoenix the Michael Waltrip Racing drivers took a big step in the right direction. The 53-year-old Martin started on the pole for the 52nd time in his career and in his second race with MWR. The No. 40 Aaron’s Dream Machine had failed to qualify in Daytona with team owner Michael Waltrip behind the wheel but all was forgotten thanks to Martin.
Truex on the other hand started 25th in his No. 56 NAPA Filters Toyota. But he and Martin made their presence known at the front of field. Martin led lap one from the pole before finding a comfortable spot inside to the top 10.
He never ventured far from the top spot and during the second half of the race found himself back in the top three but it was Truex who held the lead. As Martin ran the fastest laps on the track and climbed toward the front, Truex was using pit strategy to lead laps.
In the end though, track position and electronic fuel injection (EFI) problems took away their shot of winning. Truex brought home a solid seventh and Martin followed close behind in ninth.
“It was a good day for our NAPA Filters Toyota,” said Truex. “We fought track position all day long. Finally at the end we had a little bit better tires than some of the guys and knew we could make it on fuel and were able to go the distance there, so that helped a little bit.
“We were just really fast at the end on new tires. We were able to get the lead and with no tires and 20 lap tires were able to check out and leave them. It’s just a shame we had to pit. I’m not sure how those guys made it – there’s no way we have made it from there. We’ll work on that. I’m really pleased with the team and the car. We fought hard all day and got us a good finish.”
Truex found it hard to pass on Sunday but when his No. 56 was in clean air he was as fast as the best cars on the track. Truex said it was fun to be able to drive away from Kevin Harvick, who had led a race high 88 laps.
And more importantly for Truex, he was proud of his team. A downfall of theirs last year was a strong start only to sputter to the finish. On Sunday they were able to come from behind and make their differing strategy work and earn them the finish they deserved.
Martin on the other hand, in his first race with MWR in what’s expected to be a 25-race season, started off right with a pole and ended it right with a top 10 finish. Not yet ready to retire he comes to MWR from Hendrick Motorsports where he won races and finished second in the 2009 championship.
But now he’s back to running a limited schedule, much like he did when he was at Ginn Racing and Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2007 and 2008. Still with the fire to compete, Martin just wants to win and have fun as he continues his transition through the sport.
“Proud of the effort and any time you get a top 10 with this group of guys, you have to say it’s a reasonable run,” Martin said. “We had a little more than that, maybe not quite enough to win, but definitely a shot at a top five.”
Only the start of a long season, Sunday in Phoenix left two of the three MWR drivers excited about what’s ahead. Clint Bowyer’s day ended early when he a blew a tire and had to come down pit road. Just laps later the same happened and this time it sent Bowyer into the turn four wall. He finished 30th and sits 17th in points.
Next comes the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas where Truex has never won but Martin has visited victory lane in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series. They sit sixth and seventh in points respectively.
“I’m proud to drive these things and looking forward to the rest of the year with cars that have speed like this,” said Truex.
Martin shared in his teammates excitement about what MWR has and what was to come. Optimism is the word Martin used, saying things look good.
“Kudos to Michael Waltrip Racing,” Martin said. “This is going to be a lot of fun.”