CONCORD, N.C. – The familiar colors of NAPA made its way back to the front during yesterday’s running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. NAPA’s new driver for 2010, Martin Truex Jr., drove to the lead on lap 148. He held the position for several laps to make his owner Michael Waltrip proud. Waltrip was also competing for NAPA in the Great American Race.
Then with less than 10 laps to go, Truex restarted third and as he headed into Turn 1, he took the lead over Clint Bowyer with Harvick behind him pushing. Poised to take the win, Harvick bumped Truex causing him to make a great save, but a caution flag squashed the opportunity. Regardless, Truex stayed within in striking distance on the final restart to open his season with a sixth-place finish, his career-best Daytona 500 result.
“It was wild, wild, wild,” said Truex who started the Daytona 500 in 14th place. “I had a lot of fun today with the NAPA Toyota. I’m proud of the team. The pit stops were amazing for our first race together. If I had to rate our performance, I would say it was an A++. I had a lot of fun.
“As for the multiple green-white-checkered-flag finishes, it was what I expected. There were a bunch of tore up cars, but I am sure the fans got their money’s worth. There at the end, there was a storm brewing and it seemed like every time we took a break our car got even better. It was a lot of fun and a really good race. I thought everyone did an excellent job. We raced super hard up front. The guys used their heads, but never crossed the line. That’s the most fun I have ever had in Daytona.”
Truex’s first points race with veteran crew chief Pat Tryson saw the duo run the majority of the 208-lap event in the top 10. His lowest running position came early on lap 13 when he was scored in 14th. The rest of the event never saw Truex run outside the top 10. His No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota ran consistent as it was loose in on the high line and just a little tight when running over the bumps. Tryson only made small air pressure adjustments when needed while the team’s pit stops on laps 9, 48, 66, 79, 118, 144 and 164 were all completed in less than 13 seconds.
“I cannot say enough about my pit crew,” beamed Truex. “They were phenomenal and helped me maintain or pick up spots on the track. That’s all a driver can ever ask for. It’s what dreams are made of.”
The race saw two red-flag cautions to repair a pothole on laps 122 and 159. Truex’s running positions at the time of the stoppages were ninth and seventh. Despite the delay, Truex stayed focus while his NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota remained consistent in handling despite the sun going down and temperatures dropping.
The seventh caution flag flew on lap 160 which set up the No. 56 team’s final pit stop. Truex told Tryson before coming down pit road, “I have a hell of a good car here. It’s fun and I’m having fun but the NAPA Toyota is as free as I can stand it right now running up top.” Tryson opted to make no changes and in 12.50 seconds, Truex was back in business before the final red flag was thrown to repair the pothole.
The race went back to green on lap 168 with Scott Speed in the lead and Truex in seventh. The No. 56 made it to fourth before the race was slowed for a crash involving former Daytona 500 champ Ryan Newman on lap 193. Tryson ordered his driver to stay out and to conserve fuel as there was just seven laps to go in the scheduled 200-lap event. It put the NAPA driver in the preferred low line in third place and in great position to win the race.
When the green flag dropped on lap 198, Bowyer was the leader and Truex went door-to-door for the lead with Harvick pushing him to the top spot. Harvick wasn’t settling for second and nudged the NAPA driver up high causing Truex to make a great save. He bobbled to maintain his momentum as the yellow flag was thrown again. This time, Bill Elliott and Joey Logano crashed in Turn 3.
“Harvick was pushing me,” Truex told the team over the radio during the caution. “I tried to block him but it was hard with him pushing me. We’ve got another shot at it.”
The conclusion of the race would see two green-white-checkered-flag finishes. Truex was in the mix and dicing it up for the win. When the green flag finally waved, Truex scored his best Daytona 500 finish of his career by crossing the line in sixth place.
“There at the end there was a storm brewing and it seemed like every time we took a break our car got even better,” said Truex as he told to ESPN after climbing out of his car. “It was a lot of fun and a really good race. I thought everyone did an excellent job. We raced super hard up front. The guys used their heads, but never crossed the line. That’s the most fun I have ever had in Daytona. We made it to the end and I am so happy. I appreciate all the hard work Pat and the NAPA guys did for me. It’s going to be one heck of a season.”
As for Truex’s boss, Michael Waltrip, he drove what could be his final Daytona 500 in the No. 51 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota. His race saw him driving a back-up car after his primary car was wrecked in the Gatorade Duel qualifying race. The pit crew used the majority of the Daytona 500 getting the handling to Waltrip’s liking. The No. 51 was hitting the ground and pushing. It prevented the two-time Daytona 500 champion from getting aggressive and mixing it up with the leaders until the closing laps. In the end, fans saw him make an impressive surge through the field -- going from 30th on lap 190 to 18th when the checkered flag waved.
“I was just so proud of my race team today,” said Waltrip who started the race in 43rd position. “There at the end I have to admit, it was hard to pay attention to what I was doing when Martin and David were up there battling for the victory. I couldn’t be more proud. As good as they were today, I think California will be even better.
“The No. 51 NAPA AUTO PARTS team kind of struggled today. The car was tight and it bounced the front end. But Bobby Kennedy (crew chief) and those guys just kept working and working and we were our best at the end of the race when it really counted. I enjoyed driving the NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota today and I thank everyone involved with our team.”
Winning the Daytona 500 was Jamie McMurray. Rounding out the top-10 finishers were Dale Earnhardt Jr., Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Michael Waltrip Racing’s David Reutimann and Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Juan Pablo Montoya.
As for MWR’s technical alliance with JTG-Daugherty Racing, they had a tough start to the season. Marcos Ambrose had an engine expire to relegate him to a 41st-place finish.
This week, the NAPA team heads to the Auto Club Speedway for the Auto Club 500 presented by NAPA AUTO PARTS. Broadcast coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on FOX. It can also be heard on MRN and Sirius XM Satellite Radio.