Truex hun­gry for New Hamp­shire win

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - SCREEN CHECK - Jgluck@us­ato­day.com USA TO­DAY Sports Martin Truex Jr., be­ing in­tro­duced Sept. 4 at Dar­ling­ton Race­way, says of New Hamp­shire Mo­tor Speed­way, “There’s no other track I’d rather win at right now.”

LOUDON, N.H. Dale Earn­hardt Sr. climbed out of his No. 3 Busch Se­ries car in the New Hamp­shire Mo­tor Speed­way garage and crawled un­der the fender to tune on the car­bu­re­tor.

He likely had no idea that, nearby, a wide-eyed 13-year-old named Martin Truex Jr. watched every move of his fa­vorite driver.

Earn­hardt was parked nose-tonose with Truex’s dad, Martin Sr., who was com­pet­ing in the same race. That al­lowed a young Truex Jr. to get up close to the driver he idol­ized.

“I thought that was the coolest,” Truex Jr. said Fri­day, 23 years later. “That was (the) first time I’d ever been around big­time NASCAR driv­ers. This was the only track I came to where you could see those guys you watched every week.”

Now Truex is one of those big­time guys. As the win­ner of last week’s Chase for the Sprint Cup opener at Chicagoland Speed­way, Truex is al­ready locked into the next round of the play­off no mat­ter what hap­pens in Sun­day’s Bad Boy Off Road 300.

But Truex, now 36, isn’t about to let off the gas af­ter earn­ing his third vic­tory of the sea­son — as many races as he’d won in his en­tire ca­reer com­bined be­fore this year.

New Hamp­shire is a spe­cial place for Truex and his fam­ily, and the track he called “the Day­tona of the North­east” is No. 1 on his bucket list.

“I’ve been af­ter this one a long time,” he said. “There’s no other track I’d rather win at right now. I’ve won here in the other two se­ries I’ve raced in. My dad has won here. My brother (Ryan) has won here. I’ve got a lot of me­mories com­ing up here as a young kid watch­ing my dad, and I re­ally, re­ally want to get that Cup win.”

He cer­tainly has a good chance. Truex had the fastest 10-lap av­er­age in Satur­day morn­ing’s first prac­tice ses­sion — this af­ter qual­i­fy­ing sec­ond Fri­day. He led 123 laps in the July race here be­fore fad­ing to 16th be­cause of a bro­ken shifter.

And Truex, a pop­u­lar preChase pick to win his first cham­pi­onship, in­tends to do ev­ery­thing he can to make it hap­pen.

“We plan on win­ning the next two races,” Truex said. “Our guys are re­lent­less. We all are. That’s just how we race. The anx­i­ety of some­thing bad hap­pen­ing is the only thing that’s changed.”

Truex has had a long and some­what im­prob­a­ble road to reach the point where he can make state­ments like that with con­fi­dence. In 2013, Truex was re­moved from the Chase af­ter NASCAR dis­cov­ered Michael Wal­trip Rac­ing ma­nip­u­lated the reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale; later that year, Truex lost his ride when spon­sor NAPA cut ties with MWR.

Truex landed at Fur­ni­ture Row Rac­ing, but he strug­gled through a mis­er­able year in 2014 as his girl­friend, Sherry Pollex, bat­tled ovar­ian can­cer.

These days, life is much bet­ter. Pollex is can­cer-free, Truex has had the fastest car for most of the year and he has added Coca-Cola 600 and South­ern 500 trophies to his col­lec­tion.

Sun­day, he hopes to ac­quire an­other one.

“I al­ways dreamed of it,” he said of turn­ing his ca­reer around. “I al­ways hoped for it. The most im­por­tant thing is I never gave up. I al­ways con­tin­ued to push. I al­ways be­lieved in my­self.

“Some­times it was hard to keep those around me be­liev­ing, but I tried as hard as I could all the time . ... I take a lot of sat­is­fac­tion in where we’ve come from to where we are. It’s a very re­ward­ing process, but it’s tough to get through those hard days.”

FOL­LOW RE­PORTER JEFF GLUCK

@jef­f_gluck for breaking news and in­sight from the race­track.

PETER CASEY, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Jeff Gluck

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