CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Martin Truex Jr. struggled to sleep Monday night. And it wasn't because he was thinking about Texas Motor Speedway.
The Michael Waltrip Racing driver had more real-life concerns on his mind as Hurricane Sandy washed past the area of southern New Jersey his family still calls home. A native of Mayetta, a town 30 minutes north of Atlantic City, Truex spent the overnight hours looking at photos and hearing stories of boats breaking free of their moorings and floating inland, of water cresting above pier pilings as big as telephone poles, of trees falling and of wind howling at 80 mph.
"It was crazy," Truex said Tuesday during an appearance at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. "I was just seeing pictures from my friends. I've seen pictures of Long Beach Island on Twitter and texts that friends have sent, and everything was under water. It was crazy to think that a storm could do that that quick. In two days. Crazy."
Truex's parents still live in the home where the driver grew up, and which still houses many of his racing trophies and mementos. Flood waters, the driver said, stopped about a mile short. Even so, the destruction was evident -- when his father, Martin Truex Sr., ventured out Tuesday he didn't drive far before hitting standing water and finding boats that had been wrenched free. Truex Jr.'s first car, a Jeep he put a V8 engine in and planned to bring to North Carolina to restore, was crushed by a fallen tree.
Fortunately, though, his family came though the storm safely. Although Truex only gets back to Mayetta about twice a year, once for a foundation fundraiser associated with the Dover race weekend and again at Christmas, his parents and aunts and uncles and cousins all still live there. And Truex still considers the region home.
"It's definitely been a tough few days for all the folks in that area," he said. "Fortunately, my family -- everybody is safe, everybody is doing well. [They're] still without power, and I think they're all huddled up over at my sister's house right now playing some board games, probably by candlelight. But everybody is doing good, and we're thankful for that.
"There's been a lot of devastation in the area, a lot of trees down, no power. Obviously, we don't know how bad everything is yet until the rest of the storm passes and they can go see how it's all going, but we know there [are] a lot of houses that have been flooded and a lot of bad things have happened."
Many areas in the northeast were affected by the massive storm that, as of Tuesday, had left 30 dead and 80 million without electricity -- cutting a swath of destruction from the Chesapeake Bay to New York City. Mayetta wasn't the only place with a NASCAR connection affected -- Pocono Raceway president Brandon Igdalsky wrote on Twitter that one of the track's two steeples had been blown off, the roof of Victory Tower was partially missing and part of a billboard and some fencing was down. And Pocono is 100 miles inland -- much farther than Mayetta, which sits near a bay that empties into the ocean.
As he made media rounds at the Hall of Fame and prepared to head to Texas for this weekend's race, Truex was already trying to help, adding an area to his foundation's Web site -- martintruexjrfoundation.org -- where people could donate money to relief efforts. Truex said he was working so the funds would go to the Red Cross, and be allocated specifically for areas affected in New Jersey.
"I know the NASCAR fans have always been so supportive of our foundations at any time one of us reaches out and tries to help people," Truex said, "And this time is no different."
Toward that end, Truex will also sport a special decal on his No. 56 car this weekend at Texas. Sure enough, though, racing was never very far away. During Truex's question-and-answer session Tuesday, one visitor to the Hall of Fame congratulated the driver on qualifying for the Chase, and then tacked on one sizable caveat: "When do you think you're going to get back to Victory Lane?" It's nothing Truex, whose lone Sprint Cup victory came a heaping 200 starts ago at Dover in 2007, hasn't heard before.
"It's a good question, because I think about it more than those people do," he said. "I think I get it a lot, maybe because they're expecting it, and I am, too. I don't think anyone's gotten so close so many times to winning as I have the past two or three years. I mean, I don't know how you get any closer and not do it than what we've done a couple of times this year."
Atlanta, where he led by three seconds before a late caution for a blown tire on another car bunched up the field with a few laps remaining, still hurts. So does the first time around Kansas in 2012, where he dominated the field until the handling on his vehicle went away. At last week's driver's meeting, Truex said Matt Kenseth told him that the No. 56 team was running well enough that one day they might rip off four wins in a row. But getting there has proven painful, especially given that teammate Clint Bowyer has three triumphs this season.
"A little bit of it is, how come it's him?" Truex said. "He dominated Sonoma, which was awesome. But two of them have been fuel mileages. So it's like ... why can't we do that? Why can't we be smarter? But ... so many circumstances have to play out for you to win these races. They made good decisions to win races, they were fast and were able to take advantage of it. We've been fast enough to win on raw speed, we just haven't taken advantage of it. Its tough, man. When it's not your day, it's not your day. One of these days ... I'm telling you."
Although a few bad races -- like Sunday's 23rd-place finish at Martinsville, his worst since crashing out of Talladega in the spring -- thwarted his Chase effort, Truex's car has been fast all season long. For much of this year he's been a fixture in the top 10. That kind of consistency made his season, he knows, but he wonders if it hampered him in the Chase.
"It's been very important. That's what got us to where were at, is consistency," he said. "But I also think at times it has hurt us, because we've been too conservative. You can't race 26 races one way, and say, 'OK, there [are] 10 to go, we've got to do it different.' I think we got stuck a little bit to where we didn't take chances, we weren't aggressive enough on certain things and in certain areas where we could have been. Those guys who run up front take chances, and they live on the edge ... . We had to get consistent to get where we're at. Now that we're here, if we can stay here, we can get more aggressive."
The task of finding that balance continues Sunday at Texas, where Truex has a pole and typically runs very well. Tuesday, though, he had other things on his mind -- like raising money to help his hometown with what's certain to be a long a difficult cleanup after Sandy finally meanders on her way. For a little while, at least, thoughts of when that elusive next victory might come were eclipsed by larger, more pressing concerns.
"Hopefully, we can do our part," Truex said, "just to try to get things back to normal."
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