Martin Truex Jr. knows it will take a trip to Victory Lane in order to keep sponsor Napa – and perhaps in order to keep his job at Michael Waltrip Racing.
Truex enters the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season faced with increased pressure to perform, in perhaps a now-or-never situation with a contract that expires at the end of the year.
He wants to stay at MWR – hopefully with Napa sponsorship – and he's up for the challenge to prove he deserves the ride.
"I'm not here to float along and hang around if I'm not competitive," Truex said Monday night. "I know what I can do in a race car. Michael knows what I can do in a race car, and everybody here knows what I can do in a race car. And that's all that matters to me.
"This year is obviously very, very important with Napa – keeping them happy and hopefully keeping them here. For now, it's just about getting it done. We can do it. There's no doubt in my mind."
Truex pointed to the last five races of 2011 as evidence he and his team are capable of running up front and winning races. He had four top-10 finishes in the final five events, which coincided with a change in how MWR built its cars.
Now, with MWR on the same tier as Joe Gibbs Racing in the eyes of Toyota, Truex believes the improvement will only continue.
"If we can perform as well as we did the last six or seven races of the year, there will be no question (about re-signing)," he said. "Our goals are obviously to do that right out of the box. I know my team is capable of winning races and making the Chase, and if we don't do that, I'm not going to be happy, either. So it doesn't really matter what else happens."
Truex made the Chase in 2007 while driving at Dale Earnhardt Inc. and also won his only career Cup race that season. The two-time Nationwide Series champ figured he'd be a perennial contender. But that hasn't happened.
DEI nearly fell apart in 2008, then merged with Chip Ganassi Racing. His 2009 season with Earnhardt-Ganassi wasn't good, and he left for greener pastures at MWR.
But it's taken longer to get up to speed at MWR than he anticipated, Truex said.
Still, Truex said he's never doubted his ability because he knows what he's capable of doing in a race car and believes in himself. He's improved since making the Chase, he said – not regressed.
"I'm a better driver than in 2007 by leaps and bounds," he said. "You can ask anyone who's ever been around me since then. ... There's a lot of lessons you can't learn unless you have a tough year or things aren't going good. I've learned a lot of those. Hopefully, I can put them all to good use."
Truex refused to call 2012 a "make-or-break season" because, he said, every season is that way. There's always pressure to perform, always expectations.
But the 31-year-old driver acknowledged this season is crucial in deciding the future for both himself and MWR.
"I mean, I want to be here next year," he said. "We both have to wait and see how all that goes. But I feel good about this year. I really do. Time will tell."