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 importantly, 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.