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Martin Truex Jr. takes the Dover pole...now can he back it up? And what about Casey Mears? | NASCAR Racing Breaking News: Trackside Live, Every Week, Every Sprint Cup Race - MikeMulhern.net


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Martin Truex Jr. takes the Dover pole...now can he back it up? And what about Casey Mears?

  Got to admire Michael Waltrip's guts and gumption in putting together his own NASCAR team and hanging tough. Martin Truex Jr., new to the operation this year, will be on the pole for Sunday's Dover 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)  

   By Mike Mulhern

   DOVER, Del.
   Not much has been heard from Martin Truex Jr. this season, since leaving Chip Ganassi's Chevy operation and joining Michael Waltrip's Toyota empire.
   And on the other side of the equation, Jamie McMurray, the man who just took over that Ganassi-Truex ride, has been having a career-best run so far, winning the Daytona 500 and looking strong every week, finishing second at Darlington just last weekend.
   So when Truex won the pole Friday for Sunday's Dover 400 – the Autism Speaks 400 presented by Hershey's Milk&Milkshakes, as the sponsorship logos say – it was rather a surprise.
   To say the least.
   First, Waltrip's operation, just starting its fourth season, is still fighting something of an uphill battle to establish itself as a power on the stock car tour. David Reutimann, Truex' teammate, gave the Waltrip camp its first and only tour victory last May, in a rain-shortened Charlotte 600.
    Truex, who won here – his only tour win, in fact – in the spring of 2007, for Ganassi, has been lackluster in qualifying this season, with an average start of 21st. He concedes as much, and says that's why he and new crew chief Pat Tryson have put more emphasis on qualifying lately.
    In fact if there were an award for most-improved – from the start of a race to the finish – this season then Truex and Tryson might be the tops. In eight of the 11 races, they've finished better than they've qualified.
   Still Truex and Tryson really haven't been in the hunt this season, with a fifth at Martinsville, a sixth in that crazy Daytona 500, a seventh at Richmond, and a ninth at Texas their bests.

   Martin Truex Jr. -- has the move from Chevy to Toyota, from Ganassi to Waltrip, really paid off? The man now in his old ride just won the Daytona 500 and came close to winning Darlington's Southern 500. Pressure is on Truex to perform (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    So in setting the favorites here Sunday, Truex is probably a long shot.
    But then favorites like Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth didn't fare well Friday.
    Which looks to mean that fast qualifiers Jimmie Johnson, who swept both races at this high-banked one-mile last year and who is a five-time winner here, and Richmond winner Kyle Busch are best bets. (But then Busch's luck here is either great or lousy.)

   One of the key story lines this weekend is Brian Vickers, and the man subbing here while he recovers, Casey Mears, who lost his Cup ride with Richard Childress at the end of last season when sponsor Jack Daniels withdrew. Mears has been scrounging this season, and he was to have run here with crew chief turned rookie team owner Tommy Baldwin.
   Now Mears has a solid ride, for a few days at least, maybe a few weeks: "Brian could be good on Monday. Or it could be a long time. I don't know. It's really vague to me. 
     "He was supposed to get some results fairly soon that would give us better insight into how long something like this might take place.

  Jimmie Johnson (with wife Chandra) has three DNFs already, and it's only May. But he swept both Dover races in 2009 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   "Obviously this was a last minute deal so we're thrashing," Mears said. "But it's still a good time.
    "I hate the circumstances -- Brian is a good friend of mine, and I hate to see him going through what he's going through right now. 
    "But it is fun to be at the track knowing we're running on Sunday.
    "Unfortunately we're pretty far off.  They came with a little different setup from what I understand. It's hard to piece it all together without being a part of it getting to this point.
    "So we struggled in practice. 
     "But we have some good ideas what we are going to do for race trim...which will be back to something they are more comfortable with. 
     "It has been a little bit of a thrash, a crazy couple days. After getting a day under our belt, and being able to communicate a little better, we'll be better come Saturday."


   Greg Biffle: he really needs to win Sunday's Dover 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Biffle needs to win this race, and perhaps so does teammate Carl Edwards. Actually any Ford driver making it to victory lane will be cause for much celebration.
    The man to keep an eye on, though, is Jeff Gordon, so hot this season, so focused, and so driven, though still winless since Texas last spring.
    It's almost amazing that Gordon still hasn't won. He could easily have five wins already.
    "The competition is really tight," Gordon says. "It also shows what double-file restarts and green-white-checkered finishes do to the sport.  On one hand, they make it really exciting...but for somebody like me, when we've had the dominant car, the cautions didn't fall right. 
    "When we've tried to win under a late-race caution, the green-white-checkered or the caution didn't fall right for us. 
     "There are a lot of different ways to win races these days, and sometimes the fastest car wins and sometimes it doesn't. 
     "Last week (at Darlington) when we had the four fresh tires and had the fast car, the caution didn't fall, where the previous races it did. 
     "Had we had single-file restarts, we would have won three races. It's just that much different when you start single-file, or double-file with the lapped cars on the inside like we used to.
    "It's just totally different now. So it's important you get it right – that you don't spin the tires on those restarts and that your car takes off good.
     "And right now you've got a lot of guys experimenting (for later in the season, with testing banned)....
    "Of course everyone is trying to win races, but you're also trying to get ready for the chase and the championship.
     "I really don't think there is anything we could do different to have won those races...other than me spinning the tires at Phoenix.
    "Those races, if they happened over again, and the cautions fell a little bit different, we'd be sitting here with quite a few victories.
     "So we're not really sitting here worried or upset about it. That's just how racing is.
      "I believe that as good as our team is, as good as our cars are, if we just keep doing what we're doing, those wins are going to come, and those opportunities are going to fall our way."

    Jeff Gordon has been wearing DuPont colors for a long, long time, and Dover is DuPont's home. But Gordon has raised sponsorship questions about 2011, and maybe DuPont doesn't want to pay the estimated $31 million Gordon's team may be asking (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    And there may be more to Gordon's current hot streak than just determination out on the track. It's sponsorship contract time for his team, and the dollars are huge.
    Sponsorship dollars are an issue throughout this sport, and Gordon is no exception. He has raised the issue of DuPont's sponsorship, perhaps indicating subtly that the price of racing is going up (a figure of $31 million for a 2011 sponsorship deal has been bandied about).
    Any update?
    Gordon: "We've had enough associate sponsors that do quite a bit; we've had relationships where you work with Pepsi... National Guard, and Quaker State....and each of them does something unique and different that's special to the program. 
    "Being involved with DuPont for all these years, I can't imagine working with anybody else, from a primary sponsor standpoint. And I didn't say they weren't coming back, just saying we're in discussions with them. 
    "With the economy the way it's been the past couple years, you just don't know exactly where it's all going to play out. 
    "I feel pretty confident we're going to work something out with them and continue to work with them in the future."
    Only 'pretty confident'?
    Gordon offered no more details: "We're in discussions with all that right now, so we're not really ready to talk about the details."

The starting grid for Sunday's NASCAR 400 at Dover, Del.


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   Casey Mears, after a late Wednesday night call from ailing buddy Brian Vickers, has a chance to get back in the swing of things on the Sprint Cup tour (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

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