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Truex ducks trouble, grabs Busch honors
By MIKE READLING
Published November 20, 2005
HOMESTEAD - Ryan Newman made the big pass, led the most laps and won the final Busch Series race of the season. But Martin Truex once again came through the smoke clouds and dust to claim the biggest prize.
Truex finished seventh in Saturday's Ford 300, more than enough to outdistance Clint Bowyer - the only other driver in contention for the championship - to win consecutive Busch Series titles. He became the fifth driver to repeat as champion and the first since his car owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 1998 and 1999.
As Newman, who earned his sixth Busch win in nine starts this season, finished his doughnuts and burnouts at the start-finish line, Truex guided his No. 8 Chevrolet through the white smoke on his way to Victory Lane. That scene not only summed up a night of dodging lapped and spinning cars - and a quick brush with the wall - but also his whole season.
After nine races, Truex was 348 points out of first. It was a crucial moment for crew chief Kevin Manion, who sat down with the team to re-evaluate.
"We couldn't do anything right there for the first two months," said Truex, 25. "This time was a lot harder. Everybody in the wintertime was saying we were going to run away with (the championship), but we weren't ready for this year at all.
"We found ourselves way behind. We decided to just go home, build some cars and try to win some races. We never thought then that we could win this thing. But we all stuck together as a team and it showed today. This thing was three times harder to win this year and I'm three times as proud."
The struggles resurfaced Saturday, if only briefly.
First, he wrecked during qualifying and was forced to start 42nd out of 43 in a backup car. Bowyer began the race in 12th.
When Truex caught Bowyer's No. 2 Chevrolet he was forced into an unscheduled pit stop on Lap 40 with a loose right front wheel. That put him a lap down but in the "lucky dog" position, ready to return to the lead lap on the next caution.
Then Mike Wallace struck again.
After a wreck with Wallace at Richmond on Sept. 9 Truex was fined $10,000 and docked 25 championship points for an inappropriate gesture. Because of that, Truex entered Saturday's race leading Bowyer by 64, rather than a much more comfortable 89.
Truex retained his lucky dog position until leader Greg Biffle passed Tim Sauter to make him the first car one lap down. Two laps later Wallace spun and brought out the caution flag, so Sauter got his lap back and the points leader was still one lap down.
In a strategic move that may have won the title, Manion chose to stay out during a caution on Lap 72. That got Truex back on the lead lap but low in the field (29th) and on older tires than most.
Truex's last major concern came on Lap 96 when the lapped car of Carlos Contreras pushed him up the track as he tried to pass on the outside. Truex scraped the outside wall, slightly damaging the right rear quarter panel of his car, but not affecting his ride too much.
After that it was a matter of hanging on and trying to finish, which was Manion's top concern.
"I think we could have won the race," Manion said. "But that was the first time in two years that I've points raced."