HOMESTEAD, Fla. – No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. finished third in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The Michael Waltrip Racing driver started second and rarely ventured outside the top five during the 400-mile race. Truex led laps 147-151 bringing his season total to 153. Truex owned the fastest car outside of championship contenders Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards who finished first and second in Sunday's race and in the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup. The third-place finish moved Truex from 23rd to 18th in the season standings. It also marked Truex's third top-five finish and 12th top-10 finish in 2011. Truex finished in the top 10 in four of the season's final five races. The NAPA Racing team returns to action at NASCAR's Preseason Thunder Testing at Daytona International Speedway on Jan. 12-14 and the 54th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 25.
"It's a lot of fun when you can run like that," said Truex after climbing out of his NAPA Toyota on pit road. "I just got to thank NAPA, Toyota and everybody that helps us on this NAPA Toyota. Michael (Waltrip) and Rob (Kauffman, team owner), they put a lot of resources and a lot of efforts into getting our cars better the second half of the year. We've got a lot to build on this season. Scott Miller (Executive Vice President of Competition) came over and did a nice job being my interim crew chief while Chad (Johnston) was emailing setups from the race shop. I'm just proud of everybody on the team for sticking together. We ended the season on a strong note and we know what we've got to work on this winter. We've had speed all year. We've just got to get more consistent. If we can do that next year we'll do some great things.
"It was a good run for our NAPA Toyota. We had a good car all weekend long. I love coming down here to Homestead. I don't know what it is about this place, but I really enjoy it. I felt like we probably had the car to beat here last year. Tonight we weren't quite as good. The 14 (Tony Stewart) and 99 (Carl Edwards) were just so stout. Now you know why they battled for the championship this year. Regardless, it was a big night for our team. This is a new car we built and took to Texas for the first time. It's something that the guys have been working on for a big part of this year to get better. It just feels good to come out here and run well and finish the season off. I really look forward to next year.
The opening laps of the 400-mile race unfolded with Truex going door-to-door with Edwards for the top spot. The point leader took the early lead until rain slowed the action on lap 12. NASCAR threw the caution flag so the front runners dove onto pit road. The NAPA KNOW HOW crew changed right side tires and added fuel. Interim crew chief Scott Miller informed his driver that his last five laps during the run were faster than the leader.
On lap 21, it was time to go back to work as the green flag fell. Early into the run, Truex battled Dale Earnhardt Jr., but seven laps later, his times were quicker than Edwards. Meanwhile, the yellow flag flew for the second time on lap 34. As before, the best of the field used the chance to visit pit road. Miller called for air pressure and track bar adjustments to improve the front and rear grip on the NAPA Toyota. Truex returned to the track in 13th position and once the green flag waved on circuit on lap 37, it took just three laps to climb back into sixth and 10 more to race into fifth.
Meanwhile, lap 60 saw the NAPA Toyota pick up steam by consistently recording the fastest lap times on the track. The scoring pylon showed the No. 56 Toyota in third position before the team's first green-flag stop happened on circuit 79. The pit crew adjusted air pressure. The NAPA driver returned to the track in third place.
By lap 88, Truex returned to his starting spot of second place, however, he lost several positions when he started to run loose on throttle. Then 20 laps later, NASCAR threw the caution and then red flagged the event due to rain. The fourth-place running NAPA Toyota dropped down onto pit road until NASCAR completed drying the track.
At 6 p.m., Truex refired the NAPA Toyota and headed out onto the track to help NASCAR dry the high groove. Then on lap 113, the pits opened and the NAPA KNOW HOW crew made air and track bar changes. Truex returned to the track in fifth place.
Once again the green-flag waved on lap 116. Truex remained steady in fourth position before NASCAR waved the caution for an incident involving Trevor Bayne. The loose on throttle condition remained so on lap 135 under caution, the NAPA KNOW HOW crew made an air pressure change. The adjustment seemed to help as Truex drove up to second before former champion Jimmie Johnson spun out to bring out the sixth yellow flag on lap 141. Then five laps later, the green flag dropped. Truex drove to the lead on lap 147 and held it for five laps before the loose on throttle forced him to relinquish the lead to Tony Stewart.
The loose on throttle condition persisted with chances to fine tune the NAPA Toyota during pit stops on laps 157 and 201. Despite the challenge, the NAPA Toyota raced in the top five, well within striking distance of the race lead. Then on lap 212, rain reappeared so Miller ordered Truex in for two right-side tires and fuel. Truex returned to the track in ninth position as four cars chose to stay out. Miller also instructed his driver to conserve fuel as it appeared the NAPA Toyota's fuel mileage was five laps short of making it to the end of the race. The driver assured the team they were good to go when the green flag waved with just 37 laps to go. He was right. Truex not only had enough fuel to make it to the end, but he drove from eighth to a third-place finish.
"It was exciting to be up front racing Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards," added Truex. "We had a really good NAPA Toyota all weekend. It's just a credit to all of these guys on this team for working hard throughout the season. The 99 (Carl Edwards) and the 14 (Tony Stewart) were really stout. We weren't going to touch those guys, but we were pretty decent. We've got some things to work on this winter and if we can get a little bit more consistency, we'll have a really good season next year. We've had the speed, we just have to do all of the little things right."