LOUDON, N.H. — Martin Truex Jr. didn’t have anything to do with the penalties levied against him and everyone else at Michael Waltrip Racing that bumped him out of the Chase for the Championship.
He didn’t have anything to do with NAPA’s decision this week to void their contract with the race team at the end of the season.
He also can’t do anything about an 80 percent chance of rain for Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The one thing he can control, however, is his race car.
Truex’s No. 56 Toyota will start fifth. Practice and qualifying has proven to be a welcomed relief from the controversy surrounding the rest of MWR. And more than anything else, his chances to win Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET, ESPN) rest in his hands, not an organization that now carries an unsavory burden of not playing by the rules.
Problems for Waltrip started in the final seven laps of the Sept. 7 race at the Richmond International Raceway when team driver Clint Bowyer spun out in the fourth turn after getting a cryptic message from his crew chief to scratch some poison oak.
Ryan Newman was leading the race – and would have clinched a spot in the Chase – but he was shuffled to a third-place finish by a late pit stop and restart. Those two spots not only cost Newman a place in the playoffs, it gave Truex the final wild card entry.
NASCAR also had recordings from MWR team president Ty Norris telling Bowyer and Brian Vickers to pit on the final lap to help Truex move up even further at the finish.
While Waltrip continues to say his team didn’t “manipulate” the outcome at Richmond, Norris has since been suspended indefinitely by NASCAR and the race team was fined $300,000. NAPA followed a week later by withdrawing its $18 million a year sponsorship, saying it believed in “fair play.”
While others were involved in damaging the team’s reputation, if not the sport’s reputation, Truex has been the one who’s suffered the most.
“Decisions were made in the heat of battle – maybe they were bad, obviously they were wrong,” Truex said. “We have to deal with the consequences. That’s all I’m trying to do. We can’t go back in time and undo anything.
“Life moves on, I’ve moved on from it. And again, I’m just focused on the future and the next nine races with this group and trying to do the best job we can there and obviously trying to figure out what I’m going to do next year.”
Although Truex is allowed to find a new ride for 2014, Waltrip said Friday he hopes Truex stays with MWR. Moments after running 135.636 mph in qualifying, Truex didn’t sound like that was a likely possibility.
“I wish I knew and I wish I could say, but a lot of circumstances have to play out and it's so late in the game and late in the season. People already know what they’re doing next year,” he said. “This is definitely not the time of year you want to find out that you really don’t have a ride next year, so to speak. I don’t know, it's going to be tough, but we’ll have to deal with it and hopefully we’ll figure it out.”
There may be several options, including the ride at Furniture Row Racing or a possible fourth team at Joe Gibbs Racing. A victory in the final nine races certainly would help his chances.
Newman won the pole position with a track-record lap of 136.497 mph. Kasey Kahne will start second, followed by Jeff Gordon in third and Kurt Busch in fourth.
Counting Joey Logano in sixth, Truex is the only non-Chase driver in the top six starting spots. In fact, Kevin Harvick (starting eighth), Matt Kenseth (ninth) and Greg Biffle (10th) also are in the playoffs.
Passing has been difficult at the flat, one-mile oval, so a lot of races at New Hampshire have been decided by pit strategy in the final 100 miles. Since Truex has nothing to lose and everything to gain, his team may be more willing to gamble.
After all, a victory would be the first bit of good news for the beleaguered team in weeks.
“At the end of day, you still have to have a fast race car,” Truex said. “You have to put yourself in position. Fuel mileage does come into play. But you’re not going to sacrifice speed or too much speed to get it. We need to get our car driving good, and it needs to be good on the long runs and then you can start taking advantage of those little things like fuel mileage.”
Everything else is out of his control.