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RICHMOND, Va. -- Martin Truex Jr. climbed out of his No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet on Richmond International Raceway pit road, took his helmet off and slid a cap on backward, leaned back against his car then sighed and smiled.
Normally, Truex might not have looked that satisfied with a 10th-place finish. But after the season he's had in his first year with the single-car team, the first top-10 of the year is a welcome sign of accomplishment and encouragement.
The difference for Truex Saturday night?
"Nothing fell out of the sky and hit us," he said smiling.
That Truex scored his best effort of the year on the track that changed his career path wasn't lost on him, either.
"It would have been nice if it was a win, then we could really talk about it," he said. "But it's cool, hopefully we get things turned around now and don't have so much bad luck and we can build on this and get better going forward."
The last time the Sprint Cup Series raced at Richmond (September, 2013), his Michael Waltrip Racing team was at the center of a controversy. The end result was that the sponsor on Truex's car, NAPA, announced it would leave the team at the end of the season, and that loss in funding ultimately left Truex jobless at MWR as well.
By far the best available free agent at the time, he signed a contract for the 2014 season with the Denver-based Furniture Row Racing two months later.
It looked like a simultaneously happy ending/happy beginning when Truex won the outside pole position for the season-opening Daytona 500 -- his first race with FRR -- but he was collected in someone else's wreck during the second Budweiser Duel 150 qualifying race and was forced to a backup car for the Daytona 500.
He finished last in the race after his engine quit 30 laps in.
Since then he's had only two top-20 finishes -- his Chevy saddled in races with problems from tire issues to being hit by huge chunks of debris. His spotter even pasted a four-leaf clover to his NASCAR credential in hopes of changing fortune.
"The biggest thing is to finally just shake the bad luck," Truex said. "We've had good race cars all year. We've had top-10 cars a lot of the races, not all of them. But we've had some weird things happen and a lot of tire problems, obviously.
"We kept air in the tires all night and worked hard on it," Truex said, explaining the team's solid run at Richmond.
"We didn't have a great car in the beginning, it got really tight and we fell back pretty far once in the middle of the race. But we did a good job of getting it back.
"I thought we had a real shot at a top-five there at the end, but the short runs were killing us. We just couldn't take off the first 15-20 laps of a run and all those guys were really fast and we weren't.
"At the end of the day, we focus on how we've been running. You've got to take something good out of each week no matter how bad it went. We just keep doing that and building on it. We've got to get a little better, but we're chipping away at it."
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