Michael Waltrip Racing confirmed what has long been rumored on Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway: Both Martin Truex Jr. and Napa Auto Parts have signed three-year contract extensions to stay together.
The announcement marks a culmination in what has been a career year for Truex. With two weeks to go in the regular season, he finds himself fifth in points and is all but guaranteed a spot in the Chase for just the second time in seven full seasons in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
"... I think the key thing about today is Martin's attitude toward getting it done," said team co-owner, Michael Waltrip. "He came to Rob (Kaufmann, team co-owner) in April and said, ‘I want to drive this car next year. Y'all figure it out. I'm your guy.' That's the kind of guy you want driving your race car."
In his first two years with the organization,Truex finished no better than 18th in the final championship standings and as such, entering 2012 his future at MWR was in doubt.
But a commitment by the team over the over the offseason – which included bringing in Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin, along with crew chief Brian Pattie and competition chief Scott Miller – has paid dividends. Not only is Truex a virtual lock to make the Chase, but so is Bowyer (and the third car shared by Martin, Waltrip and Brian Vickers has consistently been competitive).
"... It's been a lot of work, a lot of ups and downs," Truex said. "But Michael and I got together last year at Texas in April and he said, ‘Look, we're going to get our cars better, but I need you to help me.' Ever since, we've been on an awesome road to improvement.
"With those guys integrating me into the team and giving me some say and making me feel like I'm part of something has probably been one of the coolest and proudest moments of my life. It's been a lot of fun and I just want to keep it going."
According to Truex, both deals are for three years and what is a rarity in NASCAR nowadays, NAPA will be the lone sponsor on the No. 56 Toyota for all 36 races. That fact prompted a rare appearance from NASCAR president Mike Helton, who normally doesn't attend driver-sponsor announcements, but wanted to show his support for a sponsor who is a firm believer in what NASCAR offers.
Now that the deal is done, Truex's attention is focused solely on winning. And although that is something he has yet to do during his tenure at MWR, he has come through this year with a runner-up result at Kansas and third-place finishes at Bristol and Pocono.
"We're right there," said Truex. "We've been close - we've been capable of winning races all year long, we just haven't finished the deal. We've run second a bunch of times and we've had the car to beat two or three races and we didn't do everything right.
"... For now, it's just a matter of getting that first one out of the way and quit worrying about it and go after a bunch of them. Maybe this will help - it will be great for the guys on the team to not have to worry about where their job is going to be next year and we're very excited about that and are looking forward to what we can do together."