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Truex looks to rediscover winning ways at Dover

Martin Truex Jr. gets into his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Dover International Speedway, Friday, Sept. 28, 2012, in Dover, Del. (AP Photo/Autostock, Brian Czobat) MANDATORY CREDIT

Martin Truex Jr. gets into his car during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto race at Dover International Speedway, Friday, Sept. 28, 2012, in Dover, Del. (AP Photo/Autostock, Brian Czobat) MANDATORY CREDIT Purchase photo reprints »

When he took the checkered flag at Dover International Speedway in June 2007, Truex’s boyhood dream came true — at a spot he considers his hometown track.

More than five years later, in what only seems like a lifetime in NASCAR, Truex is still waiting for his second win.

Sunday would be a great time to get one. Truex needs a victory in a hurry if he wants to jumpstart his already fading championship pursuit.

His first victory is becoming a distant memory.

“I don’t think I probably enjoyed it as much as I should have,” Truex said. “I didn’t think it would be this far until the next one.”

The victory drought continues even as he enjoys perhaps his best season.

Truex is having his strongest season since he made the Chase for now-defunct Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2007. His six top-five finishes this season for Michael Waltrip Racing are one more than his combined total from 2009-2011 and he came oh-so close to winning in September at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Throw in a three-year contract extension with primary sponsor NAPA and MWR, and it’s really been a season to savor for Truex.

Winning a championship would make it that much sweeter.

But with eight races left, time is already running out to make a serious run.

Truex, from nearby Mayetta, N.J., finished ninth and 17th in his first Chase races and is 10th in the standings entering Sunday’s race at Dover. He’s 34 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson.

He showed flashes Friday in the No. 56 Toyota that he should be in the thick of contention for a win when he posted the fastest time in the first practice with a speed of 157.082 mph.

“It’s a big weekend for us. We really haven’t started the Chase off the way we want to,” Truex said Friday. “This is a good place for us to come and turn it around and get on the right track, get the momentum going in the right direction.”

His 2007 victory at Dover propelled him into the Chase, and another win Sunday would surely bolster his position down the stretch. He was on a bit of a roll entering the Chase and nearly won at Atlanta.

Truex appeared to be positioned for the win until Jamie McMurray smashed into the wall on the front straightaway, bringing out a caution with three laps to go. The leaders went to pit road, and Denny Hamlin’s crew got him back on the track first, just ahead of Truex. Truex faded to fourth.

While Truex struggled to get up to speed on the restart, Hamlin pulled away with Jeff Gordon right on his bumper. It was still that way when the checkered flag came out.

Truex spent the week with family, even raised money for his foundation at a golf tournament, and had to relive the close call.

“Everybody was like, ‘Man, I couldn’t believe what happened in Atlanta,’” he said. “They’re all telling me how loud they screamed at the TV and that they were throwing stuff. I said, ‘You should have been in my shoes.’ We had a lot of fun with that. All the people back home support me so much.”

Truex and Clint Bowyer made it banner year for MWR with two cars in the Chase field. Mark Martin, one of the most respected drivers in NASCAR, has won a few poles this season and the organization has proved it’s a threat to win every week. That’s quite a step up into contention after MWR had only four top-five finishes all of last year.

“I think it’s a big deal,” said Bowyer, sixth in the standings. “When you go to the shop, there’s so many people that are excited and thank you.”

Truex has pointed to the closeness of the team for a reason for his success, saying he wanted to remain with an organization that valued his input.

“We really help lift each other each and every weekend,” Truex said. “It’s been a lot of fun to be able to do that.”

Truex is always asked about his win at Dover but his two trips a year to the Monster Mile have not been races to remember. He has a 33rd, 34th and 30th-place finishes since 2009, though he has two top-10s squeezed in his last three races. He also has two career poles at Dover.

“I feel like we can still get a win or two before the year is out,” Truex said. “We’ve got a great race team.”

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