DOVER, Del. – No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS driver Martin Truex Jr. battled handling issues and a cut tire before finishing 30th in Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway. The Michael Waltrip Racing driver started on the pole for the second time in his career at the Monster Mile. Truex led the first two laps - upping his total to 148 in 2011 - before reporting an ill-handling car. He lost a lap to the leaders and spent most of the race attempting to return to the lead lap. It appeared he would regain the lost lap, but a cut tire after contact with another car caused an unscheduled pit stop leaving Truex with a 30th-place finish.
"This certainly wasn't the day we expected to have that's for sure," said Truex after climbing out of his NAPA Toyota. "We started on the pole and expected to have a strong run, but man, it got ugly out there for us. Our car lost rear grip and it bounced real bad. We tried so hard and yet we found ourselves down some laps. When we got into contention to race our way back onto the lead lap and salvage something, we cut a tire when someone got into us. That pretty much ended our chance to rebound. This NAPA Racing team usually runs very well here. Dover is one of my strongest tracks obviously, so we've got to sit down and figure out what went wrong."
The NAPA Toyota led the first two laps before relinquishing the top spot to Kurt Busch. During a lap 5 caution, the driver said his car was a little tight, but felt confident it would come to him. The first chance to pit happened under the competition yellow. Crew chief Chad Johnston ordered a two-tire service that included air pressure and wedge adjustments. Truex restarted in fourth when the race went green on lap 46.
Not long into the run, Truex let Johnston know he lost grip in the car and it was loose over the bumps. Johnston soon planned for a wedge adjustment along with four fresh tires during the team's next service. Unfortunately, the long green-flag run cost Truex a lap and track position. At Lap 100, he ran in 29th place. Then on circuit 109, Johnston called his driver down pit road for service.
The NAPA Toyota remained a challenge for Truex. The NAPA Know How pit crew went to work on laps 139 and 176 to complete major chassis adjustments. Truex raced in 29th as 22 cars remained on the lead lap. Johnston encouraged his driver as there was still plenty of time to race back onto the lead lap.
A quick caution flag flew on lap 180 to benefit teams who gambled on taking the wave around. The NAPA Toyota remained a lap down to race David Ragan, Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman for position. Then during the long run, rain threatened the action. Truex rode it out as long as he could. He came down pit road on lap 255. As the crew changed right-side tires, the caution flag came out for weather. The yellow enabled the team to earn one lap back. It also provided Johnston another shot at fine tuning the NAPA Toyota. So on lap 259, the team made a shock adjustment. The race returned to green on lap 263 with Truex scored in 25th.
Finally, the NAPA Toyota started to respond favorably to the changes. His main complaint now was his car was loose. Meanwhile, NASCAR threw the caution on lap 299. Johnston and Truex talked over a plan to make spring rubber and track bar changes. The team completed the service on lap 302.
On lap 305, the race was back up to full speed. Truex was the first car one lap down and in position to earn the Lucky Dog. Drivers on his same lap were Dale Earnhardt Jr., Newman and Stewart. They all were on older tires after taking the wave around. Unfortunately, the NAPA team's plan ended two laps when Truex had a tire cut down after another car made contact with him. It forced Truex onto pit road for an unscheduled pit stop. It also caused Truex to go four laps down and out of any contention to race back onto the lead lap.
The NAPA Toyota forged ahead to finish in 30th place and is now 20th in points, 50 markers out of 13th place. Truex and the No. 56 team return to NASCAR Sprint Cup action on Sunday at Kansas Speedway.