Truex’s father, Martin Sr., was a race winner in what was then known as NASCAR’s Busch Grand National Division North Series. It was a short step from there to go karts, which he began racing around New Jersey and the northeast when he was 11 years old. When he was 14, he won both the Junior class championship as well as the New Jersey championship series at the New Eqypt Speedway. By the late 1990s, he’d graduated to the Modified Series.
Truex won his first Modified Series race when he was 18; two years later, his father agreed to let him take over the family’s ride in the Busch North Series. In 2000, he finished 12th in the points and was runner-up for the rookie of the year award. He won twice in 2001 and finished eighth in points.
Truex’s Nationwide series career began inauspiciously with a 38th-place finish in his family-owned car at Dover in 2001. He followed that up with four more starts in 2002 and another 10 in 2003. While Truex began 2003 still driving for his father, he was soon approached by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who very much liked what he saw of the hard-working Truex. He signed the New Jerseyan.
That was all it took. Driving for Earnhardt in 2004, Truex won six races (and finished in the top five in 11 others) and the Nationwide title. He matched the achievement the next year – another six wins and another title, joining his boss as one of the five drivers to win back-to-back Nationwide titles. So much for his full-time Nationwide career.
Truex’s Cup career has been somewhat checkered. Signed by Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2004 when the namesake’s son was still there and the team was one of the most powerful in the sport, Truex was expected to complement Junior and help the organization reassert itself. And though Truex performed respectably enough in his first two full seasons, 2006 and 2007, winning once and finishing a career-best of 11th in points in 2007, he has yet to deliver on his great promise.
Truex’s 2008 was a year he’d probably like to forget, on track and off. Since Junior left the organization before the 2008 season, DEI has been mired in and bogged down by endless speculation concerning its viability. Indeed, before merging with the equally-strapped Chip Ganassi team after the 2008 season, it seemed quite possible that DEI, a team begun by one of the sport’s all-time greats and designed to be a showcase for Junior, might disappear altogether.
However and though DEI lives to fight another day, the turmoil took its toll on Truex and his fortunes. He had just three top-five finishes in 2008 and finished 15th in points – reasonable enough for one of the sport’s many pretenders, perhaps, but not what’s expected from one of its leading teams and its brightest hope.