DOVER, Del. - Martin Truex Jr. remembered it all. Every minor race, all the hard work tinkering with cars, even the failures were on his mind as drove toward the finish line with the lead.
Truex spent a lifetime imagining the feeling of winning a Cup race. Now, he was about to live it for real at Dover.
"It's a sweet feeling, man," Truex said.
One year after his first career Cup victory, Truex still thinks often about how much it meant to take the checkered flag so close to his hometown. Right now, the enthusiasm of recalling the win is tempered by a cruel reality for the DEI driver now that he's back this weekend at Dover International Speedway.
"It's been a long year since," Truex said Saturday. "We need to get back into Victory Lane."
Truex has failed to build on last season when he earned a spot in the Chase and appeared on the brink of becoming one of the next elite drivers. Truex, of nearby Mayetta, N.J., has slumped this season with only three top 10s and holds 15th place in the Sprint Cup Series points standings. He's 163 points out of 12th, the cutoff for the Chase, and knows he needs to get the No. 1 Chevrolet going strong soon to turn the season around.
Career victory No. 1 is stuck as his only Cup win.
"I feel like we should be" in the Chase, Truex said. "We're good enough to be right now."
The results tell a different story. He finished 34th last week at Charlotte after a multi-car wreck knocked him out. Truex had two other finishes in the 30s in the previous five races, with a blown engine in Texas and another late-race accident at Talladega spoiling what had been solid runs.
"My luck is terrible," he said. "Every time we run good, something bad happens."
Truex qualified 20th for today's 400-mile race at Dover and hopes the mile-long concrete track can spark his season: He also has two Nationwide Series wins here and another top 10 in the Cup Series.
Last year's victory at Dover propelled him into the Chase. He finished third the next week at Pocono Raceway, then second at Michigan. He had eight more top-10 finishes and placed a career-best 11th in the final standings.
He hoped to keep that success rolling this year as the No. 1 driver at Dale Earnhardt Inc. Truex assumed the role when Dale Earnhardt Jr. defected for Hendrick Motorsports.
"It's been different without Dale Junior, but things have really not changed that much," he said. "I don't feel like I took over his spot or I'm in a special position now. I don't think I'm anything special there."