One of the year's biggest surprises is undoubtedly Martin Truex Jr., who, on the strength of eight top-10 finishes in 13 starts, heads into this weekend's Pocono 400 sitting sixth in points.
It's a remarkable turnaround for a driver who finished 18th and 22nd overall in his first two years with Michael Waltrip Racing and entered 2012 in the last year of his contract, uncertain as to what his future may be.
"I feel good about where we are at," Truex said Friday at Pocono. "I feel like that we've met our expectations. I felt like we knew where we could be this part of the season and we've done a good job with that. Like you said, the few wins that we had a chance at that slipped away is pretty frustrating, but I feel good about it. The team's done a nice job. We've been consistent."
This weekend, however, Truex will be without the man who has guided him to what is his best start points-wise of his career. Crew chief Chad Johnston is back home with his wife, who is due to give birth to a baby boy any day now.
"It's been a little bit different not having Chad around," Truex said. "He's really been kind of the heart and soul of this team for close to the past year, so it's been a little bit different."
But, as has become evident this season, MWR is a far deeper team than in previous years. While Johnston will certainly be missed, it shouldn't prevent Truex from being in contention for a good result Sunday.
Calling the shots for Truex and sitting atop the No. 56 pit box will be MWR competition director Scott Miller, a former Richard Childress Racing crew chief.
"Everything has gone good," Truex said. "The guys have done a nice job of stepping up and getting the job done the past few days and we've had a good few days of testing, a good practice today (Truex was 12th fastest in Friday's first practice) and looking forward to the rest of the weekend with our NAPA Toyota and keeping our car up front where it belongs."