Distributed by The Sports Xchange
Returning to the site of a past conquest is always a good feeling, especially when that site is near your old stomping grounds.
Martin Truex Jr., who is in his eighth full-time season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, will compete at Dover International Speedway in Sunday's FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks (1 p.m. ET, FOX), a little more than two hours away from his hometown.
The Mayetta, N.J., native logged his only victory (2007) in the premier series at the Monster Mile and has won twice (2004, 2005) there in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Over the past two years, Truex, who drives the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, has experienced somewhat of a career renaissance.
Last year, he posted career highs in top fives (seven), top 10s (19) and average starting (12.1) and average finishing (12.1) positions. Although he didn't find Victory Lane in 2012, he came close by finishing second in both Kansas races and tying his career-best points finish (11th). He also finished 11th in 2007, the year in which he won the spring Dover race.
In 14 races at the one-mile concrete track, Truex has posted six top-10 finishes, tied with Homestead-Miami Speedway and trailing only Texas Motor Speedway. Three of his top 10s at the track have come in his last four visits (eighth in May 2011, seventh in June 2012, sixth in September 2012).
He currently sits ninth in the points standings, 109 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. This is far different from where Truex was just sixth races earlier. After a 40th-place finish in the sixth race of the season at Martinsville, he was situated 25th in the standings. Since then, he has been on a tear.
"We've run well in the last six races and our numbers show it. In fact, we've run well all year but just had one issue or another that messes us up," said Truex. "Our focus is on getting all the little things right so that we can be even better and better each week."
In the next race at Texas Motor Speedway, he finished second to Kyle Busch after leading 142 of 334 laps. He followed that up with a fourth, 17th, seventh, 12th and ninth. In the first six races of the season, he only posted one top-10 finish (eighth at Las Vegas), while finishing in the top 10 in four of the last six races.
Outside of last year, his ninth-place position is his best placement in the standings after 12 races. Last year, he was ranked sixth after the 12th race. He went on to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup for only the second time in his career, finishing the season 11th. In 2011, he was 21st after 12 races, but rebounded a little to finish 18th. The previous year, he entered the 13th race in 12th place in the overall standings. By season's end, he had dropped to 22nd.
In 2009, he was 18th after the 12th race of the season at Charlotte. He had dropped back to 23rd after the 36th race. The following year, Truex's position remained consistent. After the Charlotte race, he was 15th and finished the season in the same position. After the 12th race of the 2007, Truex was 16th heading into Dover. His victory at Dover in the 13th race of the season elevated him to 13th. He was in 11th place after the final race.
Truex is looking forward to competing in front of family on Sunday and, more important, adding a second trip to Victory Lane to his resumé.
"Winning there twice in the Nationwide Series and then in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series in 2007 makes Dover a special place for me and my family," he said. "I just look forward to going back and trying to win it all over again."
FANTASY FOCUS: At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Jimmie Johnson is once again a solid choice this weekend for any NASCAR fantasy team. Almost every stat indicated the No. 48 driver was the one to go with. His stats at Dover back up the decision to include him. In 22 races at the one-mile concrete track, he's won seven times, posted 11 top fives and 16 top 10s. His seven victories are tied for the most on the all-time wins list with NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Bobby Allison. He's won this event twice in the last four seasons and has an average driver rating over the past 16 races at Dover of 120.6, almost 13 points higher than the next driver. In that same span, he has the highest average finish (6.3), highest average running position (7.0), highest number of fastest laps (878), most laps in the top 15 (5,570) and most laps led (1,923). A second driver to consider would be Carl Edwards. Although he has only one victory at Dover, he's consistently run well and has a driver rating of 104.5. In 17 races, he's finished in top 10 12 times and has an average finishing position of 8.3, his third highest average among all tracks. In addition, he's led 532 laps here, which is his second highest tally behind only Homestead-Miami (560). Finally, Edwards has the highest pass differential (177) among active drivers in the last 16 races at the track, 22 points higher than the second driver.
BUSCH CONTINUES TO DOMINATE NATIONWIDE
There is no denying that Kyle Busch is one of the most talented drivers in NASCAR -- regardless of the series.
In NASCAR's three national touring series he has compiled a whopping 114 victories, 18 more wins than the next driver (Mark Martin) who has won at least once at all three levels.
However, nowhere is he more dominant than in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, where he has been victorious a series-record 57 times. Six of those wins have come in 2013.
During Saturday's 5-hour Energy 200 (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), Busch will once again look to prove that he's the one to beat this season. Although he's won three NASCAR Nationwide races at the one-mile track in 15 visits, Busch knows how difficult the track can be and important it is to have the perfect setup.
"Dover, being a concrete track, is challenging," said the 28-year-old Las Vegas native. "You've got to be fast through the corner. Two-thirds of your lap time is through the turn rather than down the straightaway, so you definitely have to make sure you have a good-handling race car -- one that's good in the beginning of the run on low air pressures and one that's good at the end of the run on high air pressures, and even through traffic."
If Busch does find Victory Lane on Saturday, he will be the quickest driver in the series to seven wins during a season. The Dover race will be the 11th of the season. Sam Ard currently holds the record as the fastest driver to log seven wins during a season when he won the 16th race of 1984 at South Boston Speedway.
Since 1982, only 11 seasons have had drivers reach the seven-win mark. It has happened in six of the past seven seasons -- 2006: Kevin Harvick (nine wins); 2008: Kyle Busch (10) and Carl Edwards (seven); 2009: Kyle Busch (nine); 2010: Kyle Busch (13); 2011: Kyle Busch (eight) and Carl Edwards (eight); and 2012: Joey Logano (nine). Last year is the only year in the past five in which Busch didn't reach seven wins. In fact, he didn't win in the series in 2012.
A win this Saturday will also break a three-way tie between him, Todd Bodine and Carl Edwards, giving him more wins at Dover than any other driver in the series. He set a similar record last weekend at Charlotte when his first-place finish gave him his seventh track victory and broke a tie between him and Mark Martin.
It's obvious that he's on a mission this year to prove that 2012 was a fluke.
AFTER ONE-RACE DETOUR, CAN SAUTER GET BACK ON TRACK?
In 2013, Johnny Sauter got off to as good a start as possible -- winning the first two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races at Daytona and Martinsville.
He followed that up with fourth- and fifth-place finishes in the next two events at Rockingham and Kansas. However, an accident with James Buescher on lap 115 relegated him to a 28th-place finish and dropped him from first in the standings to sixth, 37 points behind leader Matt Crafton.
When the green flag drops on Friday's Lucas Oil 200 (5 p.m. ET, SPEED) at Dover International Speedway, Sauter is hoping to return to the top of the points standings, or at least back in the championship conversation.
That, however, could be a tall order.
Although Sauter qualifies well at Dover -- his lowest start in four visits to the one-mile concrete track is seventh -- his luck doesn't always carry over into the races. His average finish is 13.8, with only one top-five finish (fifth in 2009).
Sauter can't put his finger on the exact reason why his stats aren't better than they are. He's run well throughout the races, but doesn't have much to show for it by the end of the race.
"The numbers are just not indicative of how we run there, so all you can do is continue to put your best effort forward -- and that's what we do every week," said the Wisconsin native. "It's no different than a lot of race tracks, in that you have to be smart all day and take care of your stuff, but there are some race tracks where you can't seem to do anything right, and I think a lot of that is luck."
A strong showing Friday afternoon could put him right back on track to capture his first title.