April 1, 2005 in Sports

Working undercover

Mike Harris Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

After the first five Busch Series races of 2005, Martin Truex Jr. has one victory, which came in Mexico earlier this month.
(Full-size photo)

Thanks to a fast start by surprising rookie Carl Edwards, defending NASCAR Busch Series champion Martin Truex Jr. is being all but ignored so far this season.

That’s just fine with Truex.

“It was like this last year,” he said. “It’s a real comfortable position to be in, to not always be, you know, under everybody’s microscope.

“So far everything’s been going OK. We’ve had some good races; we’ve had some bad. That’s to be expected. But Carl is absolutely doing a great job right now and deserves to be talked about.”

Truex, who drives a Chevrolet for the Chance 2 Motorsports team co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and stepmother Teresa Earnhardt, has enjoyed a decent start.

In the first six races of 2005, Truex has one win and two top fives — and is fourth in the season standings, trailing Edwards by 166 points going into Saturday’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The last driver to win two consecutive Busch titles was Earnhardt, who did it in 1998 and 1999 before moving up to NASCAR’s top stock car series. The plan is for Truex, who is driving a handful of Nextel Cup races this season, to make the move up next year with his entire team.

Before he goes to the Big Show, though, Truex would like to match the Busch feat of his boss and friend.

“I’d like to think we could do it again,” Truex said. “Obviously, it’s going to be tough. We’ve got some great competition. I think it’s probably going to be even tougher than last year.

“We’ve got a little bit of different rules this year with the new (softer) tire, impounding (the cars in) all the races, so it’s a little bit different for us. But we’re getting used to it. I think here in the next couple weeks we’ll grab hold of it pretty good and we’ll be in some good shape.”

Last year, his first full season in Busch, the driver from Mayetta, N.J., was solid all year. He had six victories, 17 top fives and 26 top 10s in 34 races.

The key, according to Truex, was avoiding trouble most of the season.

“We’re going to have to obviously steer clear of bad luck like we did last year and just keep working hard and, hopefully, win some more races,” he said.

Earnhardt, who is off to a difficult start in Cup, isn’t spending a lot of time worrying about Truex or the Busch program.

“Those guys have a good feel for what they’re doing,” Junior said. “I think they’re going to be good all year and I don’t see why they can’t win another (title).

“Martin is a real good driver and, best of all, he has a real good head. He’s smart in the race car and he works real good with his team.”

The 24-year-old Truex, six years younger than Earnhardt, said he’s learned a lot from Junior.

“Probably the biggest thing is finishing races, you know, just being smart, racing your own race and not trying to go out there and do anything out of the ordinary or anything crazy,” Truex said. “Finishing races last year is what won us the championship.

“You have to do it to be competitive anymore. Everybody is such good drivers and has such good equipment when you get to this level. You usually don’t have mechanical failures that knock you out of races. The only thing that knocks you out of races is not using your head or being too aggressive.”

While his immediate goal is another Busch championship, Truex is aware that this season is a preparation for his full-time move to Cup and a big steppingstone to his long-term goal of winning races and titles in NASCAR’s top series.

“I think for us as a team, it’s the best way to go about moving to the Cup series,” he said. “Obviously, we had a great season last year, but the Cup series is real tough.

“We plan on moving our whole team up to the No. 1 Cup team and we feel the best way to do that is get another season in the Busch Series. We’ll try to back up our championship and run seven Cup races. We’re going to try to get our team built up, try to get some cars built, get our feet wet, have a little to fall back on next year.”

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