It would be easy for Martin Truex Jr. to think about what might or could have been.
He prefers, however, to think about what is.
The reality is that Truex is all but eliminated from his first Nextel Cup Series championship, trailing leader Jeff Gordon by 447 points entering Sunday’s Pep Boys Auto 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Only four races remain in the Chase for the Nextel Cup, and even though Truex has been unable to capitalize, the opportunity itself was a reward for a strong season.
“We’ve had some great race cars throughout the Chase. Just seems that everything that could go wrong has ... . It’s been frustrating,” the driver said.
“We’ll go out there and race as hard as we can and try to win a few of them and, hopefully, move up in the points towards the front.”
Truex’s greatest frustration during the Chase has been his bad timing and bad luck.
He has run solidly in each race and has had to worry more about misfortune than a poor-handling car. He blew an engine blow at Talladega, Ala., and was caught up in a five-car wreck at Kansas on the restart after a lengthy rain delay.
“It definitely stinks when you can’t do anything about it. I think it would be worse if we weren’t running well, if we were struggling,” Truex said. “That wouldn’t feel good for me and my team.
“We’re real proud of the way we ran. We’re proud of what we’ve been able to do throughout the season to get where we’re at. But, yeah, it’s kind of an empty spot there where we had those bad races and it just took us out of the Chase for the Championship.”
Truex, 27, has made vast improvement over his rookie season of a year ago when he finished 19th in points. He earned his first Cup win this year at the June race at Dover, Del., and has already more than doubled his top-10 finishes of a year ago (11 this season vs. five last year).
His move into the upper echelon of Cup drivers could not come at a better time for Dale Earnhardt Inc., which will lose NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., at the end of the season.
Truex will then become the most veteran driver in the organization. Rookie Paul Menard will return and Mark Martin and Aric Almirola will split time in the No. 8 Chevrolet, replacing Earnhardt Jr.
Although there will be a number of personnel changes at DEI, Truex hopes the things that have made his No. 1 Chevrolet team successful this season will remain the same.
“We’ve got a great bunch of guys here and everybody’s going to stay around for next year. Just continuing to build this team to a championship contender where we can win championships,” Truex said.
“I feel like we’ve had a great shot this year. Some things just didn’t go the way we needed them to, but we’ve done a good job and we continue to get better.
Truex looks forward to his new role in the organization.
“It’s a lot better condition than I’ve been in the past. It’s always me going to someone for help,” he said.
“I think we’ve got to the point now where we can stand doing some great things for the company, helping the younger drivers out. It’s going to be something new for me, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”